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"Sometimes cases are settled for less than the recommended amount, and sometimes they are settled for more than the recommended amount," Roberts replied.
The Press did not find a single instance in which Metro settled for more than the amount recommended by its claims committee.
On May 14, 2004, Friendswood resident Georgia Young was on her way to a University of Houston graduation ceremony to watch her son-in-law receive his diploma. She was walking with her husband of 30 years, Rod, and their son, Aaron.
The family was crossing Elgin at Cullen when a turning Metro bus knocked Georgia 17 feet through the air. Rod was also hit and suffered minor injuries. Aaron managed to leap out of the bus's path.
Blood poured from Georgia's nose, face and ears. She suffered severe head trauma that landed her in the neurosurgical intensive care unit at Ben Taub General Hospital for a month.
Today the 59-year-old has no recollection of the accident. Doctors report that her personality has changed significantly. She is childlike. Her judgment and decision-making abilities are impaired. She's forgetful and easily confused. She suffers from vertigo and dizziness, severe depression and persistent shoulder and neck pain.
Georgia's estimated medical and prescription costs for the first seven months after the accident ran to $200,000. Her ongoing treatment will likely exceed a half-million dollars during the next five years.
Metro cut Georgia Young a check for $100,000.
Its claims committee recommended providing Rod and Aaron $25,000 each.
Metro instead offered them $5,000 apiece, which they readily accepted.
Andrea Larsen relocated from Boston to Houston in late August 1999 to work as a financial analyst for Enron. Eleven months later, while on her way to a doctor's appointment on the north side, Larsen was in a crosswalk with a "Walk" signal and was nearly all the way to the curb when she "turned around and saw the grill of the bus, maybe two feet away."
Metro driver Raymond Griffin made a wide left turn through the intersection and hit the 28-year-old just below the butt. Thrown 25 feet, she skidded on her back across the pavement and landed with her head to the curb.
The bus continued forward and rode over both her legs.
"I'm sorry, I just didn't see you," Griffin, who still drives buses for Metro, called from the doorway.
Larsen thought she was paralyzed. But she never lost consciousness.
"So I'm lying there, under the bus, freaking out," she recalls one recent Sunday afternoon at a cafe near her home in the Heights. "I was yelling at people: 'Isn't there a doctor? We're outside a hospital!' "
She directed a passerby to get the cell phone from her purse, dial her parents in eastern Pennsylvania and hold the phone to her ear.
"Mom, I was just run over by a bus!" she cried. "I'm under the bus right now! You need to get to Houston!"
An ambulance arrived and transported Larsen to Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Black tire-tread marks covered her calves; her shins were completely skinned and pocked with gravel.
Doctors took X-rays and discovered something extraordinary: no broken bones.
Larsen couldn't believe it.
Her backpack, which contained a date planner, wallet, cell phone and "an Altoids case smooshed flat," broke her fall and kept her head from cracking against the pavement. Doctors couldn't explain how her legs withstood the impact of a 26,000-pound vehicle.
Larsen was lucky to be alive. But she has suffered from chronic pain ever since.
The hospital released her late that afternoon. Her father helped carry her up three flights of stairs to her apartment. That night, shooting pains blasted through her body.
For six months after the accident, she never left her apartment building. She couldn't sit up or stand long enough to cook. She couldn't walk or drive. Her mother, who nursed her for six weeks after the accident, bought her slip-on shoes because she couldn't bend to reach her feet.
She suffered from severe depression, gained 30 pounds and underwent therapy for two years. Her incessant nightmares were filled with plane crashes, train derailments and bus accidents.
"It was a very, very dark time for me," she says. "I died in my dreams every night."
Today the nightmares are less frequent. But the pain persists. Doctors say she will eventually need to undergo shoulder and hip replacements and back surgeries.
Before the accident, Larsen ran as much as 30 miles per week. Doctors told her she would never run again. They said she may not be able to have children.
She has spent the last six years doggedly proving the doctors wrong. In January she ran a half-marathon through Houston. She married in 2003 and last year gave birth to her first child.
But she has difficulty lifting and holding her infant daughter. Simple house chores quickly exhaust her. She can't ride a bicycle.
Larsen remains haunted by not just the accident but also the callous treatment she received from Metro.
Even before a doctor examined her, Larsen says, a Metro representative came to her hospital room and told her to sign a form relieving the company of all liability. After she returned home, she says, Metro representatives called repeatedly to insist that she sign the forms.
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