"A jury should decide whether a school bus service is liable for dropping a 13-year-old girl off at the wrong bus stop, exposing her to harm from a man who had sexually abused her, the Iowa Court of Appeals has ruled in an unusual wrongful-death case.
Donnisha Hill's tragic death has resulted in murder convictions for her abuser, David Damm, and the man he hired to kill her. With the appeals court's decision, it could also lead to a damages award for her parents against the bus company, First Student, Inc.
On Oct. 27, 2006, a First Student driver allowed Donnisha to get off the bus at an intersection near Damm's car dealership in Waterloo, Iowa, rather than take her to a stop near her house where her mother could see her. Damm picked Donnisha up and took her to meet his friend, Bruce Burt, who later beat her to death with a small sledge hammer.
A Black Hawk County judge cut short a jury trial of the wrongful-death lawsuit last year, finding that First Student did not need to protect Donnisha from “any and all possible harm” resulting from contact with Damm and her murder was not within the “range of harms risked by the defendant's conduct.”
Police were investigating the abuse allegations at the time of the murder. The identifiable risk, First Student argued, was not that Damm would have Donnisha killed, but that he would again sexually abuse her.
But the appeals court said the risk did not have to be so specific to be within First Student's “scope of liability.” “The plaintiffs presented evidence that First Student was aware Donnisha's bus route was changed for her overall safety in general, not just to prevent further sexual abuse,” it noted in sending the case back for a new trial.
“[T]he risk that made First Student negligent was the general risk that Donnisha would come in contact with and be physically harmed by Damm,” the court concluded.
Donnisha's parents found out Oct. 11, 2006 that she was having sex with Damm, a neighbor. After calling the police and keeping her out of school for two weeks, her mother asked First Student to change her bus route to one closer to home. . . " Read More