Family Compensated $23.5M For Wrongful Death of Son After Being Trapped on School Bus

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Donnett Hickson,
Legal Staff Writer

On June 12, 2017, a Los Angeles school bus company, Pupil Transportation Cooperative (“PTC”), agreed to pay the family of now deceased Hun Joon “Paul” Lee $23.5 million after admitting liability in Lee’s death back in February 2016. The settlement ends a lawsuit brought by Lee’s parents against PTC, the bus driver, Armando Ramirez, and the Whittier Union School High School District, but only PTC will be responsible for monetary payment. Lee’s parents sought to hold the parties responsible in court for their son’s death, which arose from being trapped in a sweltering school bus for more than seven hours after a substitute bus driver hurriedly left the vehicle for an escapade with a fellow PTC employee.

Lee, a 19-year-old, non-verbal autistic student, boarded a PTC bus with two other special needs students which departed for the Sierra Vista Adult School in Whittier, California just like any other day. However, the substitute bus driver was distracted by text messages from his lover and neglected his responsibility to confirm all children had safely exited the bus. Instead of checking to see if there were any remaining students, Ramirez raced off to convene with a fellow PTC employee while oblivious to the 6-foot 300lb young man left in the vehicle. While the two were engaging in sexual activity, Lee remained trapped inside the bus on one of the hottest days of the year. According to data from Weather Underground, the temperature rose to 96.1 degrees Fahrenheit on that fateful day back in September 2015.

After not returning home from school, Lee’s mother called the school where they then found Lee’s body inside the bus. Pertaining to the loss the family experienced, “Paul Lee was the center of the Lee family’s universe and his horrific death is an immeasurable loss,” Rahul Ravipudi, one of the Lees’ lawyers, said in a statement.

The bus driver was arrested six months later and charged with felony dependent abuse resulting in death. He plead guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Since the tragic loss of their son, the Lee’s have ceaselessly worked to ensure that this heartbreak never befalls another family. Along with holding the aforementioned parties responsible, major policy changes have been enacted at the school and in California law. The school now calls a student’s home and bus company if the student fails to report to the building within 30 minutes of school starting. A year after Lee’s death, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Paul Lee Bus Safety Law. The act requires all California school buses to have an alarm that sounds when the bus is powered down. The alarm only stops when the bus driver walks back to turn it off.

In another statement, attorney Rahul Ravipudi expressed that, “The Lee family and our firm will continue to be vigilant in monitoring not just the defendants, but all school busing operations, in a continued effort to protect students and families from needless tragedies like the death of Paul Lee.”

The case is Eun Ha Lee, et al., v. Pupil Transportation Cooperative, case number BC603251, in the Superior Court in the State of California, County of Los Angeles.

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