It was supposed to be one of those memorable nights you look back on fondly with friends years later. Instead, it was the last night of Mason Zisette’s life. The 16-year-old was killed while on a double-decker, open air tour bus in California in the summer of 2014. He was aboard celebrating the 16th birthday of a female friend. As the bus passed under a pedestrian bridge, Zisette stood up. His head struck the bridge. At first, it seemed only like a small bump on his head. But he lost conscious almost immediately. He never woke up. He suffered a traumatic brain injury from which he ultimately died.
Now, following a jury trial that named the girl’s parents, the tour bus company and the driver, his parents have been awarded $26 million in damages. It’s believed to be the largest amount ever awarded in California for the wrongful death of a minor. The bus company was assigned 70 percent of the blame. The girl’s parents shouldered 25 percent of the blame. Zisette, meanwhile, was just 5 percent negligent for his own death.
His parents say the money is not going to bring their son back. However, they intend to use it to help press for legislation that will help change the laws and improve bus safety, which the parents say his sorely lacking. They don’t want another child to suffer the same kind of wrongful death as their beloved son, whom they called “exuberant” and “full of joy.”
According to The Daily Breeze, the open-air bus was traveling along the highway when the teen struck his head on the pedestrian bridge. His mother pointed out how unsafe it was, even to an untrained onlooker. “It was a bunch of teens standing up, flying down the freeway,” she said.
Plaintiffs alleged their son’s wrongful death was the fault of the adults on board – the bus driver, a tour guide and the girl’s parents. They alleged those individuals failed to take safety precautions to protect the 35 teens on board. No one told them to sit down. No one told them to wear their seat belts. Meanwhile, the girl’s parents provided the teens with vodka. Bus employees allowed the teens top drink and dance on the upper deck of the bus, even as it was moving down the freeway.
Defendants, meanwhile, tried to foist the blame onto the underage victim. They alleged he drank three beers before he ever boarded the bus, and then brought with him a bottle of vodka and a bottle of whiskey. They further alleged he stood high on an 18-inch riser on the bus.
Prior to the party, the teens were texting back and forth about all the alcohol they were going to bring to drink during the five-hour trip.
The victim’s mother said she knew the teens were taking a tour of Hollywood on the bus, but had no other information. The girl’s parents, meanwhile, had reportedly purchased six flasks of vodka and gave them to their daughter, instructing her to share.
None of the teens aboard testified to having seen decedent drinking, but he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.118, which is higher than the legal limit of intoxication of 0.08. For a minor who was just 16, his blood-alcohol concentration should have been zero.
At the time of the incident, the girl’s parents, the driver and the tour guide were all on the lower level of the bus. The bus stood 13.3 feet tall. The overpass was 15.1 inches. Decedent stood 5 feet, 11 inches, and he was standing on an 18-inch riser. The bus could technically move under overpasses, but the clearance was close. On the first overpass, everyone ducked and said, “Whoa.” But as decedent stood up, just seven seconds later, as he faced the rear of the bus, his head hit the concrete overpass of the next bridge. He died two days later.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Jury assigns blame, awards $26 million in fatal injury of Manhattan Beach teen on tour bus, Dec. 4, 2016, By Larry Altman, The Daily Breeze
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