A jury in Compton has awarded $26 million to the family of Mason Zisette, a Manhattan Beach teen, who was killed in an accident aboard a double-decker Starline tour bus. According to a news report in the Daily Breeze, the jury awarded the largest jury verdict ever awarded in California for the wrongful death of a minor child. Jurors found the tour bus company 70 percent at fault for what happened and assigned 25 percent of the blame to the parents of a girl whose Sweet 16 party Mason was attending when he was aboard the bus.
On July 10, 2014, Mason hit his head against the Spruce Street pedestrian bridge as he stood upstairs on the open-air bus that was traveling south on the 405 Freeway in Inglewood. Mason seemed to have suffered only a bump on the head. But he immediately lost consciousness from a severe traumatic brain injury and never awakened. Mason’s mother has said she plans to use it to work with lawmakers to change legislation that will help improve bus safety.
Lawsuit Alleged Negligence
In their lawsuit, Mason’s parents said their son should have never died in the manner that he did. They said the adult on board including the bus driver, the tour guide and the girls’ parents never took any safety precautions to protect the 35 teens on board including telling them to sit down and put on seatbelts. Instead, the Zisettes claimed the girl’s mother provided vodka to the teens and that the bus employees allowed the teens to drink and dance upstairs while traveling along the freeway.
Starline’s defense attorneys argued that Mason had consumed alcohol and was to blame. The bus’s driver who had only been at his job for three months testified during the trial that he had never driven a double decker bus before his job at Starline and had never taken in onto the 405 or received safety training from his employer. Since Mason’s death, Starline does not allow alcohol on its buses, has placed warnings for passengers to stay seated and requires security guards to work on the top deck of every tour bus.
Purpose of Wrongful Death Lawsuits
This case is an illustration of how wrongful death lawsuits succeed in holding at-fault or negligent parties accountable. While the at-fault parties in this case may not have been criminally prosecuted, the victim’s family had recourse through the civil justice system to bring a wrongful death action and hold them accountable. And often, as our Los Angeles wrongful death lawyers have observed, it’s not all about money.
In addition to holding wrongdoers accountable, families of victims also work to bring media attention to these important safety issues that might otherwise go uncovered or unaddressed. Many also work toward bringing about positive change through such action. We hope Mason’s story will help shed the light on safety issues surrounding celebrity tour buses in Los Angeles and help make them safer in the future.