It will be time for kids to head back to school before we know it. For many, this means riding the school bus. And while school buses are generally safe, it is important to remember that school bus accidents can and do still happen. Unfortunately, claims arising from these accidents are often more complex than other motor vehicle accident cases. If your child has been injured in a school bus accident, we strongly urge that you contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss whether you should pursue a claim for compensation.
Different Types of School Bus Accidents
If your child was injured in a school bus accident, the type of accident or who caused the accident will have a significant impact on how you proceed should you decide to pursue a claim for compensation. Here are the most common types of school bus accident claims that we handle:
- Accidents caused by other drivers. These are cases where another driver’s negligence results in an accident involving the school bus. This can include accidents caused by distracted driving, speeding, running stop signs or stop lights, or driving while intoxicated. It may also include accidents while the bus is stopped, including striking children who are crossing the road after exiting the bus.
- Accidents caused by the bus driver. Bus drivers can be negligent in all of the same ways that other drivers can be. When bus drivers fail to drive safely, accidents can occur that can result in injuries to the children.
- Accidents caused by negligent maintenance. Worn tires, faulty brakes, and other mechanical issues can cause the bus driver to lose control of the bus and cause an accident. The entity operating the bus (whether the school district or a private company) has a legal obligation to ensure that the bus is in good working order and can be safely operated. If the entity operating the bus outsources its maintenance, you may also have a claim against the mechanic who performs the repairs and maintenance.
Accidents can also be caused by inclement weather, poor road design or missing signage, and defective parts on the bus. If your child has been involved in a bus accident, identifying the cause of the accident may require considerable investigation. A personal injury lawyer with experience in handling school bus accident claims can ensure that you have correctly identified the cause of the accident. This is a critical step in your claim, so it is important to get it right.
Who Do You Hold Accountable?
Identifying the cause of the accident will usually tell you who is at fault. However, the question then becomes who should be held accountable for your child’s injuries, related medical expenses, and other losses. The answer here is relatively straightforward if your accident was caused by the negligence of another driver. In that case, you would pursue a claim against the driver just as you would in a typical car accident case.
The situation becomes more complicated if the accident was caused by the negligence of the bus driver. Typically, you would not pursue a claim against the bus driver personally except in rare cases such as when the bus driver was doing something illegal that led to the accident. In most cases, you would want to pursue a claim against the bus driver’s employer under a legal theory known as “respondeat superior.” Under this theory, the employer can be held liable for the negligence of their employees. This means that there will be more resources available to satisfy victims’ claims when they have suffered severe injuries and extensive losses.
Identifying the party who should be held accountable can also be complicated in instances where the accident was caused by poor road design, weather conditions, or defective parts on the bus. Whatever the cause of the accident that injured your child, an experienced personal injury attorney can ensure that the proper party is held accountable for their injuries and losses.
The Challenge of Sovereign Immunity
Most school buses are operated by their local school districts. This means that the entity operating the buses is a municipal entity or subdivision of the Florida state government. This can create additional challenges for those who have been injured in school bus accidents.
In a sense, sovereign immunity is an exception to the doctrine of respondeat superior discussed above. Sovereign immunity essentially means that you cannot sue the government unless it gives you permission. In the context of a school bus accident, this would mean that you could not sue the school district for your child’s injuries even if they were caused by the bus driver’s negligence.
Thankfully, Florida law does allow people to pursue claims against the government if they have suffered personal injuries as a result of the negligence of government employees. There are two important exceptions, however:
- The employee was acting outside the scope of their employment; or
- The employee acted with wanton and wilful disregard for the safety of others.
If either of those exceptions applies, then you cannot sue the school district for your school bus accident. For example, if the bus driver was driving the bus during their off hours and without permission or if they were driving while drunk, the school district may be able to argue that they should not be held liable for the accident.
Families affected by school bus accidents should also be aware that claims against school districts are subject to damage caps:
- $200,000 per person, and
- $300,000 per incident
If your losses exceed these amounts, you can only recover your additional losses if the school district has insurance coverage or the legislature decides to pay your claim.
Sovereign immunity does not apply if the school bus is operated by a private entity. However, school bus accidents involving potential sovereign immunity claims are very complicated. We strongly encourage you to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss your case if you think you might have a claim against your school district.
Injured in a School Bus Accident? Contact Powell, Powell & Powell Today
If your child has been injured in a school bus accident, we can help you get the compensation they will need to make a full recovery. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today at 850-682-2757.