On December 4, 2015, it was reported that a pickup truck ran a red light and crashed into a bus waiting for the light to turn green. In Palm Beach County, a school employee confirmed that the bus was from Pierce Hammock Elementary School in Loxahatchee, FL. Fortunately, only three students and the bus driver suffered minor injuries, according to fire rescue officials. However, the firefighters had to remove the driver from the pickup as nearly half of his vehicle was under the bus.
One of the witnesses, Stephanie Kelly said, “I thought he was going to be decapitated. He was in such bad shape. He was completely reclined in his truck.” The driver had to then be airlifted to the nearest hospital for treatment. The driver was cited for running a red light .
In this case, it was clear that the driver was at fault.
However, I personally have experienced an accident with a school bus where the school bus was very much at fault.
A few years ago, I was in the car driving with my mother when a school bus side swiped our Ford Excursion. We were parked in a corner spot by the school entrance where the buses exit and turn to get onto the adjacent road. This road is constantly jam-packed every day and most of the cars are extremely close to entrances and exists to pick up kids. This is not an unusual spot for a car to be parked.
As the bus driver was pulling out, my mother and I noticed that they took an unusually wide turn to get onto the road. When the bus was trying to straighten out, it hit the passenger side of the SUV, causing minor damage to both doors and the front bumper.
After the police were called and the accident was reported (with no injuries) my mother had a battle with the district and bus company that supplied the school buses. The driver contended that my mother was parked too close to the entrance of the school and that the size of her car made it impossible to get out without an accident. My mother explained that the spot she parked in is a spot where most parents sit in while waiting for their child and that most families have an SUV, therefore, the size of the car didn’t matter; an experienced driver would be able to avoid the collision.
In the end, my mother won the suit and the bus company paid for the damages.
What Are The Statistics?
It’s important to note that a school-transportation-related crash is an accident that either directly or indirectly has the involvement of a school bus vehicle or non-school bus vehicle functions as a school bus in that is transporting children to or from school or school-related activities. Continually, from 2004 to 2013 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collected 10 years of data in school-transportation-related crashes. Within this time frame, there were 1,344 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes with an average of 134 fatalities. Additionally, occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 8 percent of the fatalities, and nonoccupant—such as pedestrians, bicycles, etc.—accounted for 21 percent of the fatalities. Most (71%) of the people who lost their lives in these crashes were occupants of other vehicles involved in the crashes. Here are some of the key findings that the NHTSA came up with:
- From 2004 to 2013, there were 327 school-age children who died in school-transportation-related crashes; 54 were occupants of school transportation vehicles, 147 were occupants of other vehicles, 116 were pedestrians, 9 were pedalcyclists, and 1 was other nonoccupant.
- More school-age pedestrians were killed from 7am to 8 am and from 3pm to 4pm than any other hours of the day.
- There were 42 (36%) school-age pedestrians killed in school-transportation-related crashes who were 8 to 13 years old.
- More than two-thirds (67%) of the school-age pedestrians fatally injured in crashes were struck by school buses or vehicles functioning as school buses.
- There were almost three times more fatalities among occupants of other vehicles (147) than occupants of school vehicles (54).
- There were 1,344 people of all ages killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 134 fatalities per year.
- Among the 106 occupants killed in school transportation vehicles, 45 were drivers and 61 were passengers.
- Impacts to the front of school transportation vehicles occurred in 53 percent of fatal school-transportation-related crashes.
Adding to that information, most of the crashes happened to the front of a school bus (53%) or to the right side (11%) of the school transportation vehicle in fatal school-related crashes. The types of maneuvers that contributed to these crashes included; going straight, slowing to a traffic lane, accelerating in a traffic lane, starting a traffic lane, being stopped on the road, passing or overtaking another vehicle, leaving or entering a parked position, maneuvering to avoid, turning right, turning left and negotiating a curve .
Fault in General
Often, one would look to the police report or insurance adjuster to determine who is at fault. Many times these reports are correct but not always. So it is important to have a basic understanding of how fault is assigned. When an event occurs that causes property damage, bodily injury, or emotional distress, it is referred to as a “tort.” There are two main types of torts:
- Intentional Tort
Automobile accidents, particularly ones involving school buses, are rarely a result of intentional torts or intentional wrongdoing. Instead, negligence is usually the claim that is brought in motor vehicle accidents.
Negligence can be proven by showing that a person had a duty to act a certain way and that they breached that duty. Drivers have a duty to act a reasonable person would and everyone has a duty to follow the rules of the road. School bus drivers have an even higher duty of care to protect the children on board. Thus, if someone has breached their duty, they can be deemed negligent and at fault. There are a few additional rules to be aware of:
Comparative Fault. Comparative fault2 is a theory that each person is responsible to the extent of their negligence. So if a person is speeding and hit a bus that failed to stop at a stop sign, each will be assigned liability for the breach.
Negligence Per Se. This theory says that if a law is in place to protect a certain class and a person breaks that law and ultimately injures the class which the law is designed to protect, then that person is automatically negligent. This makes proof easier.
No-Fault. In Florida, drivers must have insurance to cover the first $10,000.00 in injury costs no matter who was at fault. After that amount, they may be able tosue the other party to the extent necessary.
Vicarious Liability. When an employee is performing job duties for their employer, any negligence by the employee can be placed on the employer. In this way, a school may be liable for the acts of a bus driver.
Inherently Dangerous Activities/Negligent Hiring. If an individual contracts with a third party to perform an inherently dangerous activity, that person may still be liable for the actions of the third-party even if they have no control over their actions. Furthermore, if a person fails to check the credentials of a party, then they may be liable for their actions if they could have been forewarned through background checks or avoided through proper training.
All of these theories help establish how fault is assigned in an injury action and can be applied to bring suit against the appropriate individuals. It is important to understand who can be held liable to ensure that you are able to get fully compensated for the harm caused.
Bus Driver Fault
If a bus driver is at fault for an accident, the number of parties that may be brought into the actions include:
- The bus driver
- The school district
- A third-party contracting agency
- Insurance companies
Different school districts handle their bus services differently, so it is important to investigate all contracts and policies in place to ensure that you can include each party.
Negligence & Personal Injury
After an investigation of the accident, there are critical steps to consider when determining negligence and if the standards of care are met. Was there a mechanical issue? Was there a fight on the bus that distracted the driver? Did the driver swerve to avoid hitting something on the road?
All of these questions can be answered through a review of all the federal, state, and local standards that apply such as inspection routines, licensing of the driver, assignment of aides to the bus, and training of the driver and/or aide. Looking and analyzing the accident report and other documents can help identity what standards may have been breached. If any standards were breached, the next step is to determine whether the breach may explain the accident and whether a breach may constitute negligence and can be a proximate cause of the accident resulting injury.
Further, a 1986 helped to outline the principles in which a school is found liable for a school bus-related accident. Dr. Edward F. Dragan, writing for the Education Expert firm summarized the ruling stating that,
“When a school provides transportation for student, it has a duty to transport them safely, and the school ordinarily cannot avoid its liability for failing to transport tits pupils safely by delegating performance of its duty to a private school bus company. The party that engages the private school bus company is not responsible for the negligence of the company or its employees. However, where work involved may be characterized as inherently dangerous (transporting school children), the duties of the employer (the school) are nondelegable and the school may be liable for the negligence of its contractor (the bus company) if it did not reasonably monitor the contractor’s compliance activities. Further, the school remains liable for injuries caused by negligence of the private bus company if the school fails to use reasonable case to select a competent contractor, where the contractor was in fact incompetent.” 
Call a Clearwater School Bus Injury Attorney for a Free Consultation
Here at the Dolman Law Group, we understand that accidents with school buses are a confusing and troubling time. Let the experienced bus attorneys at our firm clear the confusion and represent your claim. Figuring out who is liable is our job and we want to help you get the compensation you deserve. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a school-related transportation vehicle, please call us today at (727) 451-6900.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765