Jerry Cunningham, who suffered severe injuries after being dragged by a Broward county transit bus he was attempting to board, won the Florida Senate’s support yesterday to receive a $850,000 settlement from the county.
Cunningham, 14, was a Crystal Lakes Middle School student. The accident occurred in May 2013 as he ran to catch a bus stopped at NE 12th Avenue and Sample Road in Pompano Beach. He reportedly stuck his hand in the door just as the bus driver was closing it and pulling away from the stop.
The teen’s hand got stuck in the bus door and he was dragged at 18 mph for 100 feet before his arm dislodged and he fell on the road. He suffered severe injuries, including facial fractures, broken ribs, skull fractures, and other injuries that left him hospitalized for two months. He had to be placed in a medically induced coma for a month and missed school for over a year while he recovered.
The boy’s father, Gerard Cunningham, told news sources that his son was to graduate from Deerfield Beach High School this year.
After the incident, records show that the bus driver, Reinaldo Soto, was given a 15-day suspension and was demoted to a janitorial position to mop, clean, and refuel buses.
Soto, 59, was later given back his job as a driver after union arbitrator Andrew Dion found his demotion to a different job with a $6,000 pay cut to be an unfair punishment “without just cause.” Dixon reinstated Soto’s position despite the fact that his employers’ concluded that he broke safety laws, left a teenager permanently injured, and ignored the horrified screams of his passengers.
Soto said he never saw Cunningham, whose arm was caught inside the bus door, until the teen fell. He admitted that he did hear other bus passengers screaming, but he didn’t stop because he hears screams like that on the bus “many times.” Cunningham was dragged almost 100 feet before Soto finally stopped.
The teen’s parents filed a lawsuit and won a settlement, and now Broward County is required to pay the family $850,000. Under Florida law, a county can’t pay out more than $300,000. Cunningham needed state authorization to receive the remaining amount. Florida’s Senate voted 36-1 in favor of the claims bill on Monday, which had already been approved by the House. The bill must now be signed by Governor Rick Scott in order for Cunningham to collect the outstanding amount.
The bill was approved by the Senate despite Senate Special Master Adam Stallard’s negative report on the case that said “the preponderance of evidence” showed Cunningham caused his own injuries.
Stallard said the teen’s “hand, arm, or wrist” wasn’t caught by the bus door. Instead, Cunningham placed his hand between the bus doors and “attempted to run alongside it” until he lost his grip and footing. He relied on the testimony from the prosecution that said if the doors had closed on Cunningham’s arm, then he could have easily pulled it out.