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Dunnion Law Wins $7.85 Million Settlement for Special Ed Student

Monterey, CA – The insurance carrier for Alisal Union School District (AUSD) paid $7.75 million for the 2019 collision that caused permanent spinal and internal injuries to a special education student, who was 10-years-old at the time.

At approximately 8 a.m. on March 15, 2019, the district’s special education van carrying four students, including van driver, Andrea Salviejo, and student assistant, Brenda Hernandez, was struck head-on by an oncoming passenger vehicle driven by Antonio Gill. Although Gill was found at-fault for the accident itself, Salviejo and Hernandez, both employees of AUSD, were shown to be liable for the severity of the student’s injuries. Gill’s insurance paid an additional $100,000 to the student and her family.

“As parents, we entrust the school district and its employees to undertake our students’ physical safety as part of its fundamental responsibilities,” said Connell Dunnion, Esq., Managing Partner of Dunnion Law, the law firm that represented the student. “This case sadly underscores the devastating impact to students when the necessary precautions and protocols aren’t followed.”

The other three student passengers, who were properly secured in the van, suffered less extensive injuries. Although the injured student’s lap belt was secured, the case investigation revealed that Salviejo and Hernandez did not ensure that her seat belt was secured across her chest.

During the discovery process, Dunnion Law established that both the AUSD driver and assistant are required by their own safety protocols to make sure students are properly restrained, and that those protocols exist in part to prevent the very same injuries suffered by the student. As a result of their failure to perform this duty, the student suffered classic pediatric lap belt injuries from the collision. According to the settlement demand, the “seatbelt forced her internal organs into her spine…Her colon and intestines were ripped apart.”

After emergency surgery and multiple follow-up surgeries to repair damage and lacerations to her internal organs, the injured student now bears a large and permanent laparotomy scar across her stomach. The forces exerted by the seatbelt also broke her lower back requiring multiple vertebrae to be fused with metal rods and screws. Additional surgery was also needed to repair a leak of cerebral spinal fluid that had gone untreated for nearly three weeks.

During the proceedings, Dunnion-retained medical experts presented reports and statements explaining the ongoing care that she will need throughout her life. They also provided statements indicating how the severity of her injuries might have been lessened, or even prevented entirely, had Salviejo and Hernandez ensured she was properly secured.

 “As a special needs student, she already faces several cognitive and learning challenges,” said Dunnion. “It’s devastating that this collision and the failure to follow basic safety precautions caused this child deep suffering, and adds significant physical burdens that will remain with her for the rest of her life.”

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As seen on KION 5/46 and KSMS