$15 Million Jury Verdict Against Bus Company for Negligence in Passenger Death

Harvey Chernikoff, who had intellectual disabilities and schizophrenia, lived with his parents and took a bus to his workshop job on a paratransit bus operated by First Transit Inc.  To safeguard passengers with disabilities from choking, the bus company’s rules prohibit passengers from eating or drinking.

However, one day, Chernikoff was eating on the bus and began choking. He was the only passenger on the bus and was seated right behind the driver. He was unable to speak with his airway obstructed, so he reached for help. More than three minutes passed before the driver noticed Chernikoff slumped in the aisle, unconscious. The bus driver, who was not trained in CPR, the Heimlich maneuver or other basic first-aid measures, called his dispatcher, which called 911.

Because of traffic, more than 8 minutes passed before an emergency medical team arrived. By that time, Chernikoff had died. He is survived by his parents and one adult brother.

The Chernikoff family sued First Transit alleging it chose not to properly train its drivers. The Chernikoffs contended that the driver was negligent in permitting Harvey Chernikoff to eat on the bus in violation of the company rule requiring drivers to scan the bus’s interior mirrors every five seconds to check on passengers. Had the driver done that, the Chernikoffs claimed he would have noticed Harvey Chernikoff in distress much sooner.

The Chernikoffs also alleged that First Transit chose not to provide first aid and emergency medical training for drivers. The plaintiffs contended that the First Transit employee handbook discussed CPR and the Heimlich maneuver, but the company never trained its drivers on how to administer these emergency techniques even though the cost of training was just $88 per driver. Had this bus driver been trained, the Chernikoffs claimed he could have administered the aid in time to save Harvey’s life.

The bus driver testified on cross-examination that he felt helpless and did not know what to do.  He testified that had he been trained, he would have done everything possible to save Harvey Chernikoff.

The defendant bus company claimed that the basic first aid had not been part of the contract negotiations between First Transit and the transportation commission. The defendant’s corporate representative of the bus company testified that it was “better and safer” to rely on 911, despite the heavy traffic.

The trial judge instructed the jury that as a common carrier, First Transit had a heightened standard of care and that the standard was even higher in this case because the company was engaged in transporting individuals with disabilities. The jury decided that the bus company, First Transit was 100% at fault and determined that the driver was not at fault. The jury entered its verdict for the Chernikoff family for $15 million for the death of their son and brother.

The attorneys representing the Chernikoff family were Benjamin P. Cloward, Alison Brasier and Charles H. Allen.

Chernikoff v. First Transit, Inc., No. A-13-682726-C (Nev. Dist. Ct. Clark County, Feb. 29, 2016).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling bus accident cases, wrongful death cases, truck crash cases, car accident cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and wrongful death cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including LaGrange Park, Hillside, Bellwood, Melrose Park, Maywood, Forest Park, River Grove, Harwood Heights, Des Plaines, Palatine, South Barrington, Glencoe, Glenview, Northfield, Lemont, Palos Heights, Chicago (Irving Park, Hyde Park, Humboldt Park, Hegewisch, Greek Town, Gold Coast, Edgebrook, Beverly, Brighton Park, Bronzeville, Kenwood, Pill Hill, University of Chicago, Lincoln Park, Loyola Park), Cicero and Evanston, Ill.

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