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In Loco Parentis: Litigating Against a School District for Damages Occurring on School Busses (Part 2)

Part 2 of 3: Negligent Inspection (Part 1 found here)

It is the duty of bus drivers to take all reasonable steps possible to ensure that their vehicles are in safe operating order, and to inspect them each day to this end. Furthermore, it is the duty of the school board, as established by statute, to individually inspect each vehicle of the fleet and to make all necessary repairs to ensure that the busses are safe and clean for student use. However, due to increased number of students, and ever-tightening budgetary restrictions, this process may receive an inadequate amount of attention from the school board. These can often result in tragic accidents in which students are needlessly harmed in injuries that would have been avoided had inspection been carried out as expected.

The question often remaining in these types of injuries is whether or not the school is liable for these damages. In the past, due to the doctrine of sovereign immunity, it was unfeasible to successfully bring suit against a public entity. However, as the law has progressed in the last fifty years, more and more states have opened themselves to limited tort liability. In these cases, the doctrine of respondeat superior applies, and the tortious actions of employees of the state and its entities become transferrable to the state itself. While it is now possible to sue, there are some important limits to the state’s liability, which mostly concur with the normal operations of respondeat superior and negligent hiring.

This liability is only heightened by the possibility of injury to minors, which is further amplified by the responsibility of someone watching over your kids. This idea, known as in loco parentis, Latin for “in place of the parent,” places a heightened duty of care on people acting in place of parents when caring for children. This law applies to anyone who sequesters a child from their parents, thus replacing them as their guardian. This has been the classic method of reaching public schools for liability and it remains so today. Bus drivers are trusted school officials (in the state of Florida are direct employees of the school district) who pick up your children every day and drop them off home all the same. They are expected and entrusted to care for your children as you would and to deliver them to their school safely.

Thus, when bus drivers get on their bus at the beginning of each day, they are expected to check their vehicles for safety and operation with reasonable care. The problem here thus becomes defining reasonable care. Fortunately, from a litigious perspective, school boards often create training guides, or driver handbooks, or some other training program that specifically instructs bus drivers on how to conduct inspections of their busses, as well as some fairly standard methods for inspecting and maintaining the vehicles on a fleet level. In fact, the Pinellas County School Board Handbook specifically instructs drivers and maintenance personnel how to repair and inspect their vehicles. While some may consider these instructions to be inadequate in light of the modern data regarding the general reliance of busses on their size and build, rather than seat belts and other modern safety measures to protect student; it is not possible to successfully challenge a state entity on discretionary ministerial decisions, and thus is not open for litigation.

However, it is very possible to find a bus drive or a maintenance facility, and thus the state, since individual public employees have a qualified individual immunity form tort action, liable for negligently failing to adequately inspect or repair their busses. In these cases, the school board may be directly liable for the injuries of the students in their care.

If your child has been injured while on a school bus, you should speak to a licensed Florida attorney to determine what your rights are. These types of cases may be rather complex and the assistance of an experienced attorney with a reputation for litigating injury claims is ideal. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is available to provide a free consultation and case evaluation if your child has been injured on a school bus.  Please do not hesitate to call us with your questions and certainly read about our experience and qualifications on our website.

Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765