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Dual amputee awarded $4.5 million by jury

Shirley Bridges, a retired Olean nurse and double amputee, has been awarded $4.5 million by a State Supreme Court jury in Little Valley after a trial involving a defunct bus company and the driver of the wheelchair-accessible bus on which she suffered a severe leg fracture, court officials said Wednesday.

After a three-week trial before Justice Paula L. Feroleto, a Cattaraugus County jury deliberated for almost three hours before finding Ellicottville Transportation Co. and its bus driver, Bonnie Weishan, liable.

Francis M. Letro, Bridges' attorney, said the full award must be paid by National Interstate Insurance Co. of Richfield, Ohio, which covered Ellicottville Transportation.

Letro said Bridges, a retired Olean hospital nurse anesthetist, was thrown out of her motorized wheelchair on the bus about 12:40 p.m. Oct. 31, 2003, when Weishan slammed on the brakes exiting a parking lot on West State Street near North 24th Street in Olean.

Bridges' right leg was so badly mangled that doctors at Erie County Medical Center could not reset it fully and an infection developed that led to amputation a year and a half after the accident, Letro said.

Attorneys for the bus company and Weishan contended that Bridges, now 72, was injured because she had not secured her wheelchair in one of the bus' wheelchair stations.

Letro called experts who testified that under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the bus company was legally obligated to make sure that wheelchairs were secured.

The jury rejected Weishan's contention that she braked to avoid a pickup truck that had made an illegal turn. Letro called accident-reconstruction experts to testify, and they said the truck was not in a position to have caused a possible collision.

Attorneys for the insurance carrier could not be reached to comment on the possibility of an appeal.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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