The University of Utah has settled a lawsuit brought by the families of seven Chinese scholars killed in a 2003 van rollover, cutting short a two-week trial in a Salt Lake City courtroom.
State officials agreed to pay the plaintiffs, who include three men injured in the crash, nearly $500,000, just under a ceiling above which any settlement would require legislative approval. The U.’s offer came Thursday after the victims’ widows testified, leaving the jury in tears.
When the U. agreed to host the Chinese delegation in 2002, the school assumed responsibility for arranging the scholars’ travel within the U.S., court records indicate. Attorneys for the families alleged the university acted negligently by contracting with an unlicensed travel business in New York, which in turn hired a driver unqualified to pilot the oversized van that plunged off a snow-covered Pennsylvania highway and folded against a tree.
Coupled with a settlement from the van owner’s insurer, Friday’s settlement means the 10 families split $800,000.
After the settlement was announced in court Friday, the trial’s fifth day, the widows hugged 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder, the jurors and even attorneys defending the U.
The U.’s Institute of International Tourism organized the delegation’s 28-day excursion, which featured two weeks in Utah followed by another two on the coasts. According to court records, a doctoral student associated with the institute contracted a New York man named Zhou Zhou to handle the group’s ground transportation in the East.
At the time of the accident on April 7, 2003, the group was en route from Buffalo, N.Y., to Washington, D.C. As they were heading south on Route 15, the van crested a hill and began fishtailing before sliding off the highway.
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