Harassment, Shocking Disregard for Student Safety Highlight San Francisco Whistleblower Case

May 25, 2016  |  Class Actions, Whistleblower/Qui Tam

Whether you have children or not, this story involving a whistleblower case in San Francisco should have your blood boiling. Thankfully, it has a good ending.

Baron & Budd recently helped achieve an $11.5 million settlement on behalf of plaintiffs who filed suit against First Student, Inc. (FSI), the largest school bus transportation company in the country. The San Francisco Unified School District hired FSI to transport students across the city at a cost of approximately $2 million per month. Little did the district know what type of service it was getting for the price.

Shocking Revelations

Court documents show that many FSI employees – drivers as well as mechanics – regularly complained of dangerous maintenance problems such as worn tires and threadbare brakes. One driver had notified the company several times of problems with her vehicle before disaster nearly struck in October 2011.

She had parked her bus on a downhill slope and got out to help children disembark and then cross the street. When she looked back at the bus, she saw that it was moving – with no one behind the wheel. Thankfully, she was able to compose herself, run back to the bus and depress the emergency brake before an accident occurred.

But this just scratches the surface of what plaintiffs say was a pattern of disregard for student safety committed by FSI. Not only did the company use buses with bald tires and defective brakes, according to the lawsuit, it repeatedly skipped mandatory safety inspections. In fact, the company committed more than 330 inspection violations over a nine month period.

Not only that, the plaintiffs also said any employees who dared to speak up were harassed unmercifully. For example, bus drivers testified in court that they feared for their jobs if they complained about the condition of their vehicles. During the case, defense attorneys grilled not only the whistleblowers but also their families on incredibly sensitive, personal topics.

The Plaintiffs Prevail

Despite the best efforts of the defense team to discredit the plaintiffs, the whistleblowers were ultimately successful in the case. Even more importantly, sweeping changes took place due to the evidence uncovered by attorney Thomas Sims and the Baron & Budd team, who worked tirelessly for eight years on the case.

The case forced FSI to improve its maintenance practices significantly. The company now only uses safe buses that are inspected on time. All worn tires have been replaced and all defective brakes have been fixed. In order to ensure proper maintenance continues, extra staff members were hired.

The case also resolved an ambiguous legal issue related to implied certification. In a nutshell, the case helped bring about a clear understanding that when an invoice is sent, it is implied that the party sending the invoice performed its services as outlined in its contract. The FSI case has been cited several times in other cases regarding implied certification.

A Proud Achievement

While the implied certification aspect of the case is significant, what is even more important is the fact that Baron & Budd helped make San Francisco a much safer place. We exposed the egregiousness of FSI’s violations and helped bring about incredibly positive change through our team’s phenomenal work.

We have achieved a lot since our firm was born in 1977, but this case makes us feel especially proud.

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