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Bus driver settles claim for $5 million

Feb 23, 2009 A bus driver who lost a leg in a collision in Northern Virginia has settled his lawsuit for $5 million.

Terry Shoemaker, 56, was driving 48 high school seniors from Berkley, W.Va., in a motor coach to Disney World when the left front of his bus clipped the right rear of a tractor-trailer in April 2006 on U.S. 17 between Warrenton and Fredericksburg.

Shoemaker lost his lower left leg and foot in the crash and also suffered a shattered right hip and knee. He sued, and while a Richmond Circuit Court jury was deliberating the case last Tuesday, his attorney, Robert J. Stoney of Fairfax, and the owner of the tractor-trailer, Eastern Sleep Products Co. of Richmond, agreed to settle it for $5 million.

Stoney, who tried the case with colleagues Peter Everett and Mark A. Towery, said the collision occurred when traffic in the right lane slowed in front of the tractor-trailer, and the driver pulled from the right lane into the left in front of Shoemaker’s bus, which was in the left lane.

Because vehicles were in a turn lane to his left, Shoemaker turned to the right in an effort to fill the spot in the right lane that the tractor-trailer had vacated.

The collision between the front of the bus and the rear of the tractor-trailer peeled the sheet metal from the front of the bus over Shoemaker’s legs.

Rescue workers took 2 1/2 hours to extract Shoemaker from the wreck, and he first learned of the extent of his injuries when he heard a paramedic say, “His leg’s gone.”

Four students and a chaperone were treated at a hospital and released. Stoney said he represents one of those students in a personal injury case against the mattress manufacturer, but her injuries are not nearly as serious as those of Shoemaker.

The defense contended that Shoemaker’s bus was partly in the right lane and partly in the left lane when the tractor-trailer driver slammed on his brakes.

That meant Shoemaker was following too close and therefore was contributorily negligent, the defense contended. It retained an accident reconstruction expert to support that contention, but Judge Richard D. Taylor excluded his testimony because it did not account for all the variables in the crash, Stoney said.

A student testified in rebuttal that the collision occurred as Shoemaker had described it.

The jury heard testimony that Shoemaker has arthritis in both knees and hips from the crash and will have to have hip and knee replacements on his right leg. His past and future medical expenses total $457,000, and he has past and future wage losses of $350,000.

Stoney said Shoemaker still drives about 15 days a month for Wolf’s Bus Lines, which is based in southeastern Pennsylvania where Shoemaker lives. He has an artificial left leg, but he can’t work in the winter when snow and ice is on the ground and has difficulty walking on uneven ground, Stoney said.

When he was in the hospital after the crash, Shoemaker told his physicians that he intended to escort his daughter at her wedding three months later, Stoney said.

The jury saw a video of him walking her down the aisle on crutches with his son behind him in case he lost his balance.

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