//Wheelchair rider sues city after tip-over in Vista Transit bus; $500,000 demand rejected

Wheelchair rider sues city after tip-over in Vista Transit bus; $500,000 demand rejected

By Terri Jo Neff

Claims driver negligence caused injuries, city is liable
Attorney for Sierra Vista cites 7 possible defenses to compensation demand
SIERRA VISTA – A July 2015 ride on a Vista Transit bus has resulted in a negligencelawsuit against the City of Sierra Vistaafter a rider’s wheelchair tipped over as the bus made a left turn.  Larry E. Mulanax alleges that his wheelchair “was not property secured by the driver” during the ride, allowing the wheelchair “to tip over onto its right side” as the bus turned out of the Sierra Vista Plaza shopping center.

As a result, Mulanax claims he “suffered serious injuries” to his head, ribs, and back.
He contends the City is liable for the “negligence, carelessness and recklessness” of the city employee driving the bus. There may also have been a second transit employee who aided in strapping down the wheelchair.
Mulanax is represented by attorney Joel Borowiec, who submitted anotice of claim to the city in December 2015offering to settle the claim for $500,000.  The city did not respond to the notice of claim, which is treated as a rejection of the settlement offer.

The civil complaint was filed in Cochise County Superior Court on July 1, 2016.  According to the complaint, Mulanax experienced “severe pain and suffering” and has “suffered a loss of the enjoyment of life” due to the driver’s conduct.
And his injuries “may in the future require additional services.”  The lawsuit seeks compensation for “all injuries and damages” resulting from the accident.
Attorney Marshall Humphrey III is representing the City on behalf of the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool which provides the city’s insurance coverage.Humphrey filed an answeron behalf of the City on August 29, 2016.
The answer does not admit to Mulanax’s allegations and also notes the City may offer up to seven affirmative defenses against the negligence claims, including comparative fault, assumption of the risk, failure to mitigate damages, and contributory negligence.
The case has been assigned to judge Charles Irwin.  In January, Irwin issued an order setting several deadlines for the exchange of documents and expert witness testimony. The judge also ordered the parties to participate in private mediation by June 1.  If the case is not settled by then, Irwin will hold a trial setting conference on August 14. Both sides have requested a jury trial.

Vista Transit is operated as part of Sierra Vista’s public works department. Its annual budget is nearly $2 million, with more than 50 percent of its funding coming from federal sources.  On weekdays a dozen buses cover 60 stops along fixed routes, and there is a Saturday route to and from Fort Huachuca.
Riders who have difficulty using the City’s fixed schedule routes may call ahead for curb-to-curb “paratransit” service. The service utilizes three wheelchair accessible buses for riders who meet criteria set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 or cjw_media@yahoo.com