Hundreds of thousands of school buses take children to school each day across the United States. Almost all of these rides unfold without issues, and school buses are the safest way for a student to go to school. When a school bus accident happens, though, children on the bus may suffer serious injuries, such as traumatic brain injuries, neck injuries, spinal cord injuries, and broken bones.
The majority of school bus crashes result from mistakes by the bus driver. For example, they may drive while distracted, intoxicated, or drowsy, or they may violate a traffic law. Other accidents result from defects in the bus or a component or a failure to adequately maintain or repair the bus. A thorough investigation of the events leading to a crash can illuminate who was at fault. Parents can pursue a lawsuit against any of these parties. They may be able to recover compensation for economic damages like medical bills and for non-economic damages like their child’s pain and suffering.
Driver Errors Causing School Bus Accidents
If the driver caused the accident, parents can hold them liable by showing that they were negligent. This means that they failed to use the same level of care while operating the bus that a reasonable bus driver would have used. Moreover, parents may be able to hold the bus driver’s employer liable, whether this is the school district or a bus company contracted by the school district. Under a theory of vicarious liability, an employer is liable for the negligence of its employees while they are on the job, even if the employer was not independently negligent. Sometimes an employer also may be directly liable under theories such as negligent hiring or retention.
Examples of Negligent Hiring or Retention
The employer failed to conduct proper background checks on a driver
The employer hired a driver who was unqualified to operate a school bus
The employer continued to employ a driver who committed a series of major violations
Suing a school district may be challenging. Distinctive rules apply to lawsuits against government entities. For example, a plaintiff likely will need to file a notice of claim with the school district or other appropriate agency shortly after the accident. A notice of claim would explain how the school or its employee caused the accident, describe the injuries to the child, and state the compensation being sought. Parents cannot go to court until the school district either rejects the claim or fails to respond within a certain time. School districts may have more substantive protections from liability as well, depending on the law in their state.
Inadequate Maintenance or Defects Causing School Bus Accidents
A school district that operates a bus fleet must meet federal and state standards for inspections and maintenance procedures. Private bus companies that contract with school districts also must meet these standards. School districts and bus companies may self-impose their own standards as well. When a violation causes a bus accident, parents may be able to sue the school district or bus company. In addition, a third-party maintenance company may be sued if it improperly conducted maintenance or repairs.
Like other vehicles, school buses may contain defects that pose safety hazards. Parents may have a claim against the manufacturer of the bus or a component that contained a defect if it caused the crash. They likely could hold the manufacturer strictly liable. In other words, the degree of care used by the manufacturer is not relevant as long as a defect existed and resulted in a child’s injuries.
Other Potentially Liable Parties
In addition to the people and entities discussed above, parents may have a claim against an entity responsible for designing or maintaining a road or bus stop. If another driver caused or contributed to a bus accident, they may bear at least some of the fault as well.