In January 2009, 4-year-old Griffin Riso had gotten off of his school bus and was crossing the street toward his waiting mother when the bus driver accelerated. Griffin had not yet cleared the path of the bus, his attorney says, and was struck by the vehicle.
Carlos Mahoney of Glenn, Mills, Fisher & Mahoney in Durham, who represented the Riso family in its suit against the Brunswick County Board of Education, said that Griffin suffered orthopaedic injuries and later fractured his foot after falling down the stairs because of a left knee injury. Mahoney also claimed that the child was psychologically injured in the traumatic event and suffered neurological injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.
After trying the case in front of two North Carolina Industrial Commission deputy commissioners, the Riso family was awarded nearly $280,000, though Deputy Commissioner Philip Baddour found that there was no TBI.
According to the order, five children — including Griffin’s two older siblings — got off the bus and crossed the street. Griffin’s mother, Kim, greeted her children Connor and Kelsey but noticed that Griffin was still on the bus trying to get his backpack on over his winter coat.
Griffin got a candy from the driver, got off the bus and was crossing the street when, according to the order, the driver moved forward and struck Griffin with the driver-side tire, knocking him under the bus.
The driver stopped after seeing Kim yelling and waving her hands.
Citing the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles’ bus driver handbook in his order, Baddour noted that some of the most serious accidents occur as children are loading and unloading the bus. One precaution drivers should use, the book says, is to count the passengers “as they unload and … again when they are safely off the roadway on each side.”
The driver testified that she saw Griffin safely cross the street. And according to the order, two of Griffin’s teachers testified that Kim told them that Griffin was struck after crossing the street and running back to retrieve a dropped bookbag.
The commission, however, didn’t buy that testimony, finding it odd that the driver failed to mention this to the responding officer either verbally or in her written report. According to the officer, the driver simply “thought all of the children had crossed” and drove the bus forward, striking Griffin “with the driver’s side tire.”
Mahoney said that the defendants offered to settle the case for $100,000.
In its verdict, the commission awarded $175,000 to Griffin; $82,833.73 to his parents; $16,108.11 for costs; and a $5,247.89 guardian ad litem fee.
Attorneys for the defendant, Staci Meyer and Karen Blum with the North Carolina Department of Justice, did not return an email seeking comment.
VERDICT REPORT – PERSONAL INJURY/NEGLIGENCE
Injuries alleged: Contusions, foot fracture, psychological and neurological injuries
Case name: Robert Riso, et al. vs. Brunswick County Board of Education
Case No.: IC No. TA-21944
Court: North Carolina Industrial Commission
Date of settlement: May 12
Attorney for plaintiff: Carlos Mahoney of Glenn, Mills, Fisher & Mahoney in Durham
Attorneys for defendant: Staci Meyer and Karen Blum with the North Carolina Department of Justice in Raleigh