Friday, December 5, 2014

Jury finds TriMet negligent in knife attack on 2 passengers, awards$306,000 to victims

Two men stabbed during a bloody melee aboard a TriMet bus were awarded more than $300,000 Friday by a Clackamas County jury.
Richard Dickson Jr. and Jeremy Thompson sued the transit agency claiming TriMet was negligent and failed to properly train the driver, Leonard James. They said James' failure to follow regulations resulted in their injuries.

The jury deliberated for a day before concluding TriMet was 100 percent responsible for Thompson's injuries and 80 percent responsible for Dickson's injuries.
Thompson was awarded $170,000 and Dickson was awarded $136,000.
Dickson and Thompson were regular riders on James' route and the three had a friendly relationship.
The attack occurred on Oct. 2, 2012, as the Line 33 bus was nearing the end of its route in Oregon City.
As a drunken passenger, Austin William Vanhagen, exited the bus, he slapped a passenger on the head and used a racial slur as he passed the driver, Leonard James, who is African American.
James got off the bus and exchanged words with Vanhagen, then got back on the bus. Then Dickson and Thompson got off the bus. Dickson was outside the bus when Vanhagen stabbed him. Vanhagen's blood alcohol level was .20.
Vanhagen stepped on and off the bus four times, once forcing the doors open, during the altercation. The last time Vanhagen got on board, he stabbed James and Thompson before Thompson and another passenger subdued him.
Oregon City police arrived about five minutes after the attack began and immobilized Vanhagen with a Taser. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the assault.
Plaintiffs' attorneys Andrew Teitelman and Wendy Leik argued that James, a TriMet driver for 17 years, failed to follow TriMet protocols for handling dangerous passengers.
TriMet emergency procedures for dealing with an armed or threatening person call for a driver to first press an alarm that alerts TriMet dispatch that police are needed.
James did push the alarm button, but then got off the bus rather than telling a dispatcher the bus location.
"Pushing a button and running away doesn't cut it," Teitelman said.
Drivers are also told to be "firm, assertive and respectful," to not react to "bad words or bluster" and to not touch an aggressor or try "to confiscate their property," according to agency regulations
Teitelman said James was responsible for everything that happened after Vanhagen got off the bus the first time.
"(James) had a duty to protect his passengers against unreasonable harm," Teitelman said.
"Once Vanhagen got off the bus, (James') job was done. Shut the doors and drive away," Teitelman said.
TriMet attorney Kimberly Sewell told jurors to take a broad look at what happened.
Sewell said James did everything that was expected of him in a hectic and fluid situation.
James didn't have to make the perfect decision, Sewell said.
"He did not have to have superpowers," Sewell said. James only had to respond reasonably dealing with a passenger who hadn't been a problem, but then has "kinda gone nuts," Sewell said.
James immediately reported an emergency and acted to protect passengers trying to keep Vanhagen off the bus, Sewell said.
To find TriMet liable, you have to conclude that the stabbings resulted from James' conduct, Sewell told jurors.
"It's only fair to look at everybody's conduct," Sewell said.
Dickson got off the bus and confronted Vanhagen. "Dickson acted in anger," Sewell said.
Dickson had Vanhagen pinned down, Sewell said. "That's when the knife came out."
At some point, Thompson had gotten back on the bus. He joined the fray when Vanhagen climbed back aboard, knowing that Vanhagen was armed with a knife, Sewell said.
Sewell declined comment after the verdict, as did Dickson and Thompson.
"We are very pleased," said Teitelman after shaking hands with his clients.
-- Steve Mayes
Jury finds TriMet negligent in knife attack on 2 passengers, awards $306,000 to victims |


Jason McHuff said...

Dickson got off the bus and confronted Vanhagen. "Dickson acted in anger," Sewell said.
Dickson had Vanhagen pinned down, Sewell said. "That's when the knife came out."

It does seem like the other passengers put themselves in harms way, though they may have been trying to protect Leonard.

Al M said...

When the assailant got off the bus the first time Leonard should have drove off not got off the bus to confront the guy

Jason McHuff said...

I don't disagree. But it seems the question should be whether that directly caused the other riders to get injured. It sounds like they could have stayed on the bus (or run off) but instead joined the fight.

Maybe they should receive compensation for trying to protect Leonard, but it just seems that they played active roles in the incident and that their injuries may have been a result of that.

Lastly, is it really an employer's "failure to properly train" if an employee working on his own "fails to follow regulations"?

Al M said...

The jury found Trimet 100% liable.
That counts for nothing? I'll take the word of a 'jury of my peers'
The fault lies with Trimet. The guy pulled the knife after Leonard got off the bus and confronted him. Those are the facts apparently

Jason McHuff said...

The article says that the knife came out when the other rider had him pinned down. That the other riders weren't just innocently sitting on the bus or staying away.

And that's my issue: Doesn't a person have a responsibility to try to stay out of a fight and not get injured?

As for the jury, it's possible they were focused on the riders' injuries, and not what caused them to happen.

Al M said...

The jury has ruled. Of course Trimet can do to the attack victims what they did to their union employees. Tie it up in appeals court forever. Or they can do the right thing and pay the claim.

I have very little confidence Trimet will do the right thing. They are about as rogue as a government agency can get.

Flatpicker John said...

Just curious Al, and also being Devils advocate.How did you feel about the out come of OJ Simpsons Jury of Peers. I am not all that confident with some of my peers.

Al M said...

As you probably know John, in the OJ case there wasproven police tampering with evidence. That case should've been dismissed as soon as that fact came out

Flatpicker John said...

I agree Tri Met can do a better job of training in this area, but the problems that I see are for one, it is rare that this happens, so being ready for it and not letting your emotional state take over is a conditioning thing. I for one take the approach of avoidance, I probably would have just driven off.

202 20 hind sight is dangerous, and lawyers are experts at exploiting it, and using it to sway juries. If Tri met paid the drivers $35 an hour, and equipped them with a direct 2 way radio system, and maybe some form of mace, in other words gave us the tools to protect our selves the rare extreme situation. The guys that got stabbed should not have had to sue for the money. Tri Met should have come up with an offer right away, and called it a reward, it would have been a great PR stunt.

Unknown said...

Maybe the real killer of Nicole Simson and Ron Goldman, maybe????
@1:15 to 1:24 -

Al M said...

Exactly why Trimet didn't settle this immediately is beyond my understanding