- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A jury awarded $3.5 million Friday to a woman who says she was permanently disfigured when a tree branch hit her in the face as she rode on the top deck of a popular open-air Hollywood tour bus.

Jurors deliberated for a little more than a day before ruling in favor of Lauren Guerra, who was riding a Starline Tours of Hollywood bus on Oct. 27, 2013, when she was injured. Guerra, 36, said her face was permanently disfigured and she suffered double vision in one eye.

Starline attorney Mark Cunningham had argued in court that Guerra was to blame for standing up when the bus was moving. He also said she’d been drinking during a Halloween party aboard the double-decker vehicle.

Cunningham didn’t respond to a phone message from The Associated Press on Friday.

Guerra’s attorney, Brian Kabateck, acknowledged his client had four drinks that night but said that under the circumstances no one could have avoided being injured.

He said Starline should have done more to prevent the accident by providing better training to drivers, checking the route for trees and stationing an employee on the top deck to watch for hazards. He added that bus employees did nothing to prevent people from standing.

“Starline has a responsibility to keep its passengers safe. When a company advertises and promotes dangerous behavior, it should be held accountable when someone gets hurt or killed,” Kabatec said in a statement issued after the verdict.

Guerra sued Starline in July 2014, days after 16-year-old Mason Zisette of Manhattan Beach was killed when he stood up on a separate Starline bus and his head struck a freeway overpass.

She said at the time she was contemplating suing after she healed, but the death of Zisette prompted her to take immediate action.

A lawsuit filed by Zisette’s family is awaiting trial.

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