A family whose child was killed in a 2018 school bus crash and another whose child was severely injured have reached a $19.5 million settlement with the Paramus School District in New Jersey.
The settlement provides $7 million to the family of Miranda Vargas, a 10-year-old girl killed when she was ejected from the bus, and $12.5 million to Asher Majeed, who survived the crash but was left with a metal plate implanted in his head.
The settlements were reached following mediation with Stephen Orlofsky, a former federal judge who is now with Blank Rome in Princeton.
The plaintiffs filed their suits in Bergen County Superior Court. The school bus, operated by the Paramus district, was driving west on Interstate 80 in Mount Olive. The bus driver, Hudy Muldrow, then 77, allegedly became lost and attempted to make a U-turn so he could access a gap in the median intended for emergency vehicles, according to the suits.
The school bus, loaded with children and teachers on an outing to Waterloo Village in Stanhope, was then broadsided by a dump truck that was traveling at 67 mph, according to court documents.
Miranda was thrown through a bus window onto the roadway, where she died a short time later, said Andrew O’Connor of Nagel Rice in Roseland, who represented plaintiffs along with the firm’s Bruce Nagel.
Asher, who was also 10 at the time of the crash, suffered multiple injuries, including traumatic brain injury, multiple broken bones and scarring. He spent months in the hospital and had a portion of his skull removed to relieve the pressure, which was later replaced with a titanium plate. He has made a good recovery but suffers from cognitive and emotional issues, O’Connor said.
The financial recovery on behalf of Miranda was limited by state law that says in a wrongful-death case involving a child, economic damages are limited to conscious suffering before death, and the victim’s projected future financial help to their parents, which typically isn’t a large sum, O’Connor said.
But the settlement on Miranda’s behalf is one of the largest wrongful-death settlements in New Jersey stemming from the death of a child, Nagel said. Several other suits stemming from the crash are still pending, he said.
The settlement was with the school district, the Paramus Board of Education, and various district employees, including Muldrow.
Muldrow was sentenced to 10 years in state prison after pleading guilty to reckless vehicular homicide, assault by auto, and child endangerment.
Mendez Trucking, the operator of the dump truck that struck the bus, is still a defendant in the litigation. O’Connor said the plaintiffs intend to pursue that company until trial, if necessary.
“I am extremely pleased to settle these two tragic cases after many years of litigation, and I look forward to obtaining a jury verdict against the trucking company,” Nagel said.
At the time of the accident, Muldrow had gotten lost and had taken wrong turns, O’Connor said.
The plaintiffs claimed the school district should never have allowed Muldrow, a school janitor who volunteered to drive a bus for extra money, to be behind the wheel, O’Connor said. At his deposition, Muldrow seemed “very confused in general,” O’Connor said.
Joseph McGlone of O’Toole Scrivo in Cedar Grove, who represented the school district, and Frank Caruso of Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas in New Brunswick, who represented the Paramus Board of Education, did not return calls about the case.