SM COURT — In a law suit that could have cost City Hall millions of dollars, a civil jury has determined a Big Blue Bus driver is not to blame for the partial paralysis of an 83-year-old woman who fell shortly after getting onboard.

In a case stemming from a 2008 incident, Beatrice Kaufman alleged that the bus driver gave her insufficient time to be seated after getting on the bus. As the driver pulled away from the curb Kaufman fell, breaking her hip and sustaining other injuries that have left her paralyzed below the waist and confined to a 24-hour care facility.

Through her attorneys at Santa Monica firm Greene, Broillet & Wheeler, Kafman’s final settlement offer before the case went to trial was nearly $4 million. City Hall had offered her $25,000.

At trial, Debra Kanoff and Anthony Serritella, lawyers in the City Attorney’s office, argued Kaufman had plenty of time to find a seat but intentionally remained standing after getting on the bus, holding onto a support beam instead of heading for nearby seats that were available. She waited about seven seconds and then let go of her support rail while the bus was moving, losing her balance and falling because of her own negligence, they argued.

Kaufman, now 84, testified during the week-long trial, being brought in on gurney to tell her story.

In an interview, Kanoff said it was a challenge to make City Hall’s case against the elderly plaintiff, but said she believed the accident was clearly not the bus driver’s fault.

“It’s a huge case where the plaintiff counsel I’m sure felt the sympathy would carry the day and instead the jury focused on the evidence,” Kanoff said.

“It’s sad, but that doesn’t mean somebody else should pay for it,” she said.

In making City Hall’s case, Kanoff relied on a video tape from the Big Blue Bus surveillance system that showed the incident. Kanoff argued the tape clearly showed Kaufman “having time to get to the seat but not making an effort whatsoever to be seated.”

The jury voted nine to three that the city had no liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. While criminal trials require a jury’s unanimous agreement for a verdict to be reached, nine out of twelve votes is sufficient to reach a decision in a civil case.

Geoff Wells, one of Kaufman’s attorneys, called the jury’s decision a “complete shock” and said he plans to file a motion to invalidate the verdict. He said he expects the so-called “motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict” to be heard within a month.

“Nine of the jurors, I think, basically ignored the evidence in the case because they felt sorry for the bus driver,” Wells said.

Wells said the video tape of the accident shows the bus driver admitting a mistake after Kaufman was injured.

“On three occasions the bus driver said, ‘I’m sorry, I thought you were seated,’” he said.

Kaufman’s medical bills since the accident have totaled about $2 million, Wells said, and future medical expenses could cost about $3 million more.

Kanoff said the victory at trial was gratifying primarily because the verdict will save City Hall money.

“If a person is injured because of their own fault … the tax payers shouldn’t have to pay for it,” she said. “The truth is [Kaufman is] injured and all the money in the world is not going to make her walk again.”

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