George Plamondon, et al. v. State of Connecticut, et al.: The parents of a University of Connecticut student who was struck and killed by a campus shuttle bus in 2011 has settled their lawsuit with the state for $5.5 million.
At 8:09 p.m. on March 22, 2011, UConn junior David Plamondon was crossing the street in a marked crosswalk at the intersection of Alumni Drive and Hillside Road on the Storrs campus.
At the same time, a shuttle bus driven by Lukasz Gilewski, also a UConn student, went through the crosswalk and struck Plamondon, who was three-quarters of the way through the street. The front and rear tires of the bus drove over Plamondon, causing fatal injuries that included a fractured skull, internal bleeding, a broken arm, cracked ribs, and lacerations to both lungs.
Attorney Michael J. Walsh, of Moukawsher & Walsh in West Hartford, was hired by Plamondon's parents, George and Linda Plamondon, of Westminster, Mass., to file a three-count negligence and recklessness lawsuit against the state and Gilewski. The lawsuit claimed that the 20-year-old Plamondon "endured conscious pain, suffering, discomfort, fear for his life, and a severe shock to his entire nervous system prior to the time of his death."
Student driver Gilewski admitted that he turned his head to wave to another bus driver in the moments before the accident. Court documents indicate that Gilewski was going about 19 mph at the time of the accident, used his turn signal and was not using a phone or any hand-held device. The bus he was driving weighed more than 39,000 pounds. "These are the kind of buses you see in downtown Hartford," said Walsh.
At the time of his death, Plamondon was majoring in physiology and neurobiology and had a cumulative GPA of 3.7, ranking him as one of the highest achieving pre-med students in his class, according to Walsh.
Plamondon planned to attend medical school and was studying for the Medical College Admission Test. Additionally, Walsh said Plamondon was a great athlete who served as captain of his high school baseball team. He also had an excellent singing voice and sang in a UConn a cappella group called A Minor. "He was a very special kid," said Walsh.
Gilewski, 22, of Newington, was later charged with negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and failing to yield to a pedestrian.
On March 5, 2012, Gilewski plead nolo contendere before Judge Elliot Solomon in Rockville Superior Court and was sentenced to two years of probation. Also as part of the plea bargain, Gilewski must take mandatory driver retraining and perform 100 hours a year of community service during the two-year probationary period.
Gilewski will also spend 10 hours each year speaking to driving-school classes and pay $80 a month for the two years to foundations set up in memory of the victim.
The victim's mother, Linda Plamondon, was disappointed with the plea deal and told the judge "justice is not being served."
"It was a momentary diversion from what he should have been doing," Judge Solomon said at the sentencing. "Save the maximum sentence for somebody who deserves it."
After the sentencing, Walsh said, Plamondon's parents brought the lawsuit against the state, in part, to try to prevent another similar incident from happening. "The Plamondons believe the death of their son was preventable," said Walsh. "During the lawsuit, the Plamondons repeatedly petitioned UConn to take steps to improve pedestrian safety and to stop using students as bus drivers."
Walsh said so far UConn has resisted these efforts and that it is one of the relatively few universities that continues to use student bus drivers. Walsh said the parents again raised the issue during settlement discussions but the university would not budge on that point.
Jeffrey C. Pingpank, of Cooney, Scully and Dowling in Hartford, represented the state in the lawsuit. Pingpank did not return calls seeking comment for this article.
UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said that all UConn bus drivers undergo the same licensing and training requirements as school bus, coach bus and tractor-trailer drivers around the state. She added that UConn student drivers "go through an ongoing process of evaluation and supervision throughout their time on the job."
According to Reitz, about 65 of UConn's 80 drivers are students.
Following Plamondon's death, the university implemented a "Safe Turn Alert" system on its buses. They system provides audible warnings to drivers and pedestrians when a bus is about to turn. It was introduced in the spring of 2011, and "was not yet available for installation on UConn buses at the time of David Plamondon's death," according to Reitz.
Walsh, however, said "college kids are college kids," no matter how much driver training they might received.
"A lot of times they're sleep deprived and if they're 18 to 22 years old, they've only been driving a few years," said Walsh. "You have a young, inexperienced student [driver] subject to distractions. It's not the right dynamic… [The Plamondons] were disappointed UConn didn't abolish the student bus driver program."
Still, the two sides were still able to reach a settlement on monetary issues without going to trial. With jury selection scheduled to begin earlier this month, the parties agreed on a $5.5 million figure following mediation with Judge Antonio C. Robaina over several days.
Though the case is over, the family is still "obviously grieving," said Walsh. "They're never going to be happy. They lost a son. It really, really is tragic."•