Why METRO bus crash victim has to pay up - despite being innocent

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- UPDATE TO THE FOLLOWING REPORT:
A judgement in the lawsuit was filed in Harris County civil court in June.

METRO issued the following statement:

"Within days of the accident, METRO acknowledged fault and in early May, Mr. Leger agreed to a settlement with METRO for the maximum amount available to him by law. As part of that settlement, Memorial Hermann reduced the amount of medical bills Mr. Leger owed, and that amount was paid in full directly to Memorial Hermann by METRO."


ORIGINAL REPORT:
A Houston man is in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt after he was hit by a METRO bus. However, it wasn't his fault.

Now, on his long road to recovery, he has to figure out how to pay his overwhelming medical debt.

The crash happened on August 22, 2019.

Matthew Leger said he has no memory of that day and can only go off of what other people at the Bellaire Transit Center that night tell him and the permanent injuries to his body.

"I was just trying to get home from work and my life changed forever. It's really tragic," Leger said. "I woke up in the hospital and asked what happened. They said I got run over by a bus. You can understand my amazement and shock."

METRO told ABC13 that their driver lost control of the bus and hit two people at the station.

Both were taken to the hospital. Leger stayed there for three weeks.

"My collarbone on the left side was crushed, and it stabbed me in the neck up here. I was leaking blood in one of my arteries. I injured one of my brachial plexus, which is a network of nerves that paralyzed my left arm, which I have movement today, which I'm grateful for. Broke this arm in half, this humerus bone in half. Broke my neck in several places. Broke my ribs," Leger said.

Leger did not have health insurance, so he racked up almost half a million dollars in medical expenses that he's had to foot the bill for while his case plays out in court.

Even if everything goes his way, Leger will still be out hundreds of thousands of dollars because he was hit by a bus.

That's because METRO's buses and the rail is protected by the Texas Tort Claims Act.

It caps their expenses regardless of if the victim dies or is severely maimed at $100,000 per person or $300,000 total.

"If a negligent METRO bus driver runs a red light and hits a van that has 14 children from a daycare and kills them, the most that METRO would ever be responsible for is $300,000," said Matt Willis, Leger's attorney.

We found that since 2017, METRO buses have been in at least 1,003 crashes. The rail has been involved in at least 251 crashes in the same time span. The numbers do not reflect how many crashes METRO was found to be at fault in.

More than a quarter of those crashes resulted in at least one injury.

They have paid more than $3.9 million in settlements since 2017 for crashes and other bus-related incidents. That works out to, on average, less than $4,000 per incident.

"If you see two buses on a city street and one of them is a METRO bus and one of them is a Greyhound bus, Greyhound has to operate in that same exact environment and yet they have to carry liability insurance well in excess of a million dollars," Willis said.

Leger and his attorney are working to get his story in front of legislators.

The Texas Tort Claims Act has not been updated or adjusted for inflation since it was passed in 1985. They know it won't help their case, but they're hopeful that it will help the next person who is in his shoes.

As the bills mount up, Leger feels like he's being victimized twice.

He had to move home with his parents, he can't work, he's having to teach himself how to do simple tasks because he can't afford physical therapy, and he has to figure out how to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars he owes Memorial Hermann Hospital.

"I don't want to be a millionaire. I am not trying to make all this money. I just want enough to restart my life and not have debt. I don't think that's too much," Leger said.

A GoFundMe page has been setup to support Leger.
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