Family of student with disabilities sues after girl allegedly left on freezing bus for hours
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TORONTO — The mother of a disabled teen forgotten on a school bus and left alone for hours has launched a lawsuit against those she's holding responsible, claiming her daughter has sustained ongoing trauma as a result of the incident.
Laura Mastache claims her daughter Wendy has become noticeably more fearful and withdrawn in the months since a driver forgot to drop her off at her Toronto-area high school, drove the vehicle to a funeral and abandoned the 19-year-old on the bus on a chilly winter's day.
Both mother and daughter are named as plaintiffs in the suit, which accuses the driver, bus company Stock Transportation and the Toronto District School Board of negligence.
The suit is seeking total damages of $700,000 and alleges injury to dignity and loss of companionship as a result of the incident that took place on Jan. 23. None of the allegations in the suit have been proven in court.
Laura Mastache said her daughter did not sustain physical injuries in the incident, but said the alleged psychological changes she's observed, which include reluctance to go to class and sleep alone, should be acknowledged.
"We have some regressions in some areas," Mastache said in an interview. "It took us years for her to overcome some fears, now it's going back to square one."
A statement of claim filed in the case said Wendy Mastache boarded the bus as usual and was to be dropped off at a school entrance used by students who attend a special education class.
The teen, the document notes, has both epilepsy and autism and functions between a Grade 1 and 2 level.
The statement of claim alleges the bus driver dropped other students off at the main entrance of the school, but forgot to take Wendy to her usual drop-off point and immediately headed out to a funeral.
It alleges the girl sat alone and forgotten on the bus for hours, without access to food, liquid or washroom facilities.
Local reports indicate temperatures hovered just above the freezing mark that day, the statement of claim said, adding Wendy would not have been able to put on the scarf or gloves in her backpack without explicit reminders to do so.
"Laura has not been able to find out if Wendy had passed out or had seizures during this period," the statement of claim reads. "Due to Wendy's difficulty with verbal communication, Laura was not able to obtain any information regarding the six hour period."
Laura Mastache herself was unaware that anything was amiss for most of the day until a concerned teacher called her to report that her daughter had been absent from class all day, but had recently been seen getting off the bus that was rounding up students for the trip home.
Mastache, feeling worried, went to the school to make inquiries. She said school officials were reviewing surveillance video and reported that her daughter had not entered the school at the beginning of the day.
The statement of claim said Mastache confronted the school bus driver, who initially denied knowing anything about the teen's whereabouts. Under police interrogation that night, however, the statement of claim said the driver admitted to "her negligent actions."
The suit also argues the school board should have had an attendance policy that notifies parents of a special needs child's absence regardless of age.
Board spokesman Ryan Bird acknowledged that previous policy dictated only students under 18 were reported as absent to their parents in the past, but the incident with Wendy Mastache prompted a change.
Both Bird and Stock Transportation spokeswoman Kate Walden declined to comment on the specific lawsuit. Stock Transportation previously indicated that the bus driver involved was fired after the incident.
Mastache said she hopes the suit will prevent similar situations in the future.
"This happened to my daughter, and everybody's going to forget," Mastache said. "Maybe with this lawsuit the TDSB, Stock Transportation, even the drivers are going to think more that it's serious. The psychological damage, you cannot see it if you don't live with her."