Kansas City
Over $1 Billion in Verdicts and Recoveries
Woman Wants Her Son's Death to be a Warning
JOE LAMBE Staff Writer
Kansas City Star

Ryan Sayles was just a boy, but those who knew him had glimpsed greatness.

He was an A student at Lincoln Prep who hoped to earn more than one college degree. He was so popular that he was a homecoming king candidate as a freshman.

When he died, 200 students asked for copies of a videotape that paid tribute to him.

On Monday a judge was asked to determine whether Ryan's death was worth $14 million - $1 million for each year of his life.

After hearing from Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, Derrick Thomas of the Chiefs, Urban League of Kansas City's President Bill Clark and Lincoln teachers and students, the judge said yes.

Ryan's mother, Kim Sayles, could have taken the big company money for her son's horrible death and kept quiet. Defendants often require that the amounts of big settlements remain confidential to avoid publicity.

Sayles, however, insisted on a public settlement in the lawsuit over how a school bus dragged, crushed and killed Ryan on May 17, 1995.

Part of the agreement with Vancom bus transportation company requires the firm to write letters to parents in more than 150 school districts nationwide to warn that clothing may snag in bus door handrails.

She has said she wanted to help save others.

"If I'd gotten a warning, (Ryan) would be here today," Sayles testified Monday at a hearing before Jackson County Circuit Judge Lee E. Wells.

Sayles, who said she would use her award to create a scholarship fund and expand a bus-safety program, sat quietly at the counsel table - listening to what she lost.

Cleaver spoke of a boy he met years ago when Ryan's essay on Martin Luther King won a city contest.

"I had the privilege of presenting the award to him," Cleaver said. "Ryan exhibited a level of maturity far higher than I had at his age. He was one of the voices of reason. "

Thomas testified by videotape. Ryan had been in the football player's Third and Long reading program. "He became the group leader," Thomas said.

Clark testified that Ryan's fine manners, friendliness and civility showed "what we old folks used to call great home training. " Ryan and Clark became acquainted when the boy worked as Clark's intern. "He was destined for greatness," Clark said.

A psychologist testified that Ryan's death left his mother so depressed that she had been unable to work or leave home. She fell apart at the sight or sound of a school bus, psychologist John Bopp said.

He added that Sayles, after losing her only child, needed to help other parents to help herself.

"She is using the pain and suffering to help others," he said, "but it will always be there. "

The $14 million settlement ended a lawsuit that had asked for millions more for punitive damages. It alleged that Vancom ignored a 1993 manufacturer's recall to install a foam pad intended to stop clothing from snagging on the bus handrail. It also alleged that Vancom put the pad on after Ryan's death and faked papers to make it appear the work was done one year before he died.

Although Vancom, of Oakbrook, Ill., settled the case, it admitted no wrongdoing.

Sayles also heard Chicago lawyer Stephen Novack, Vancom's attorney, congratulate her for raising such a fine son.

"It's obvious the world lost a good person," he said.

Novack handed Sayles' lawyer, Anita Porte Robb, checks totaling $14 million. He also will give her another condition of the settlement - expressions of condolences signed by officials at Vancom, the Kansas City School District and Saladin Anderson, the former bus driver.

Sayles left quietly, her fight over for a son whose last words to her were the same as every morning when he left for school.

"I love you. I'll see you this evening. "

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Personal Injury Lawyers - Kansas City, Missouri

Personal injury is an area of law that pertains to the injury of an individual. Both physical and emotional injuries fall into this branch of tort law. A personal injury lawyer is generally involved in cases where an injury has occurred due to the negligence of another party.

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Wrongful death falls under the common law jurisdictions wherein a person may be held liable for a death. It is important to note that wrongful death is the only course of legal action in which a company, rather than an individual, is at fault for a death.

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