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Baron & Budd Wins School Bus Whistleblower Case, Keeps San Francisco Children Safe
Employees Help End Shocking Maintenance Practices that Endangered Students
SAN FRANCISCO (May 25, 2016) –The national law firm of Baron & Budd recently secured an $11.5 million settlement on behalf of plaintiffs in a lawsuit against First Student, Inc., which alleged the company jeopardized the lives of San Francisco area schoolchildren by transporting them with buses known to have critical safety defects such as threadbare brakes and worn tires. (San Francisco Unified School District ex rel. Manuel Contreras et al. v. First Student Inc.)
The defendant in the case, First Student, is the largest school bus transportation company in the world, operating in 39 states and more than 1,300 school districts, including the San Francisco Unified School District. As part of its contract with the District, First Student promised to use school buses that were safe and in excellent mechanical condition.
However, a group of whistleblowers – including two former First Student employees – provided evidence showing that First Student regularly used unsafe buses to transport San Francisco schoolchildren. During this time, according to court records, First Student continued to invoice the District for full payment of services – more than $2 million per month.
For years, according to the lawsuit, First Student continually ignored the warnings of bus drivers and mechanics that its buses were dangerously unsafe. Drivers would routinely complain of hearing “metal-on-metal” sounds due to failing brakes, and subsequent inspections found that many buses had brake linings well below the legal minimum of 8/32nd of an inch – some with linings as low as 0/32nd of an inch.
According to First Student’s own records, the company committed more than 300 violations of the district’s 45-day inspection requirement over a nine-month period. Many of these violations concerned critical safety defects that should have resulted in removing the bus from service.
One particularly close call put several children at risk of an injury. In October 2011, according to court documents, a driver parked a bus on a downhill slope and got out of the vehicle to help some students disembark and safely cross the street. To her horror, while out of the vehicle, the driver saw that the bus started moving without anyone behind the wheel. Luckily, the driver was able to run back to the bus and depress the emergency brake before an accident occurred. Evidence showed the driver had complained for several weeks prior to the incident about the condition of the vehicle’s brakes, but was told the maintenance shop was “too busy” to fix the problem.
This case played a key role in bringing the maintenance issues to light. As a result of the plaintiffs’ complaints and the work of the Baron & Budd team, the District called a meeting with First Student and demanded full compliance with the contract, including adherence to the 45-day inspection requirement. Since that time, the repeated safety violations have stopped.
Baron & Budd Shareholder Thomas Sims served as the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. Laura Baughman of Baron & Budd and April Strauss from the Law Office of April Strauss served as co-counsel on the case, working closely with the lead attorney in all stages of the case.
“This case is a clear example of predatory corporate conduct, where profits are placed at a higher priority than the safety of children,” said Russell Budd, president and managing shareholder of the national law firm of Baron & Budd. “Our firm has achieved extremely significant results before, but this case makes us especially proud.”
ABOUT BARON & BUDD, P.C.
The law firm of Baron & Budd, P.C., with offices in Dallas, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Austin and Los Angeles, is a nationally recognized law firm with a nearly 40-year history of "Protecting What’s Right" for people, communities and businesses harmed by negligence. Baron & Budd’s size and resources enable the firm to take on large and complex cases. The firm represents individuals and government and business entities in areas as diverse as dangerous pharmaceuticals and medical devices, environmental contamination, the Gulf oil spill, financial fraud, overtime violations, deceptive advertising, automotive defects, trucking accidents, nursing home abuse, and asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma.