WILKES-BARRE - The estate of a Luzerne County man who was fatally backed over by a bus was recently awarded $350,000 and asked for more in punitive damages, though the case ultimately settled.
On Sept. 9, in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, Jeffrey J. Malak, executor of the Estate of Edward F. Rehill, was awarded $350,000 in a lawsuit against Donna Smith, City of Wilkes-Barre, Pennoni Associates, Facility Design and Development and Luzerne County Transportation Authority.
According to the lawsuit, on Sept. 22, 2011, Rehill, 86, was walking in the James F. Conahan Intermodal Transportation Center in Wilkes-Barre, when he was struck and killed by a reversing bus. Rehill, who used a cane, walked through the terminal each day to take a bus to a restaurant for lunch.
On that day, Rehill stopped behind a bus briefly when the bus backed into him and knocked him to the ground. The passenger's side rear tire rolled on top of Rehill's right leg as he lay face-down, and the bus’s axle pinned down his back, asphyxiating him.
Rehill's estate sued the City of Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County Transportation Authority and Pennoni Associates Inc., which had designed the bus terminal, on claims of negligence.
David Selingo of Selingo Guagliardo in Kingston, who represented the victim's estate, told the Pennsylvania Record that the bus terminal was designed poorly, making it dangerous because it allowed pedestrians to freely walk in front of and behind buses.
“The design is most dangerous to young children who may not be paying attention, and the elderly, who aren’t physically able to get out of the way of a reversing bus. It was an accident waiting to happen,” Selingo said.
During the trial, the estate's expert in engineering testified that the bus terminal was surrounded by residential and commercial properties, which allowed multiple entry points into the terminal, and that the number of pedestrians filtering into the terminal was disproportionate to the number of controlled safe walkways leading to buses.
The expert further stated that despite the presence of one crosswalk at the north end of a center island, most pedestrians ignored the crosswalk because of its inconvenient location, and walked through the center island and in between buses instead.
Rehill’s estate faulted the terminal for creating a design in which buses had to reverse from the center island, posing potential harm to pedestrians, which occurred in Rehill's accident. The expert recommended that Pennoni should have designed the terminal so that buses would only pull in, let passengers off, and then pull forward away from the terminal, allowing drivers to see pedestrians at all times.
Selingo stated that the defense argued that the tragic accident was the victim’s fault because he walked behind the bus after being told on previous occasions by bus drivers not to walk behind the buses, and maintained that Rehill's accident was unforeseeable.
Prior to trial, two of the defendants -- the City of Wilkes-Barre and Luzerne County Transportation Authority -- settled.
The jury found Pennoni Associates 30 percent liable, Luzerne County Transportation Authority 25 percent liable, City of Wilkes-Barre 25 percent liable, Rehill 15 percent liable and Smith 5 percent liable.
After the verdict, Rehill’s estate asked the jury to assign punitive damages, but the case settled during jury deliberation.
According to Selingo, nothing has been done to change the design of the bus terminal to date.