School buses carry precious cargo. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean school buses always avoid getting into accidents. If your child sustains an injury in a school bus accident, who is liable? Who will take care of medical bills and other expenses? In this blog, we discuss how the circumstances surrounding a school bus accident can determine legal liability for your child’s injuries.
An attorney experienced in school bus accidents can help you determine who may be liable for causing injuries your child sustained in a school bus accident. Identifying a liable party usually requires taking a range of factors into account, beginning with the circumstances of the accident itself. Police, lawyers, and insurance adjusters typically examine at least some of the following facts to identify liable parties:
Where and when did the accident occur? When a bus is traveling its usual route, that may indicate someone other than the driver is at fault. Conversely, if the bus was on unfamiliar roads, such as when it was transporting a sports team to an away game, the driver’s poor decisions may have played a larger role. The condition of the roadway may also be a factor.
Were other vehicles involved? A bus accident involving only the bus tends to point toward the bus driver or the condition of the bus as potential culprits. A bus accident involving other vehicles may suggest the drivers of the other vehicles, or the condition of those vehicles, played a role.
Were drugs or alcohol involved? In rare instances, bus drivers consume illegal drugs or alcohol before they take the wheel, which obviously points to their own fault and/or the fault of their employers, for a subsequent accident. But, most bus drivers are responsible people who care deeply for the safety of the students they transport. Even so, particularly when drivers are older and have their own medical problems, medication side effects and negative drug interactions can make someone temporarily unfit to drive a school bus.
Were safety measures followed? If the school overloads buses or fails to enforce safety rules on buses (such as allowing students to stand/move between seats while the bus is moving), then the students’ injuries may result from the school’s policies and practices.
Did something go wrong with the bus? When a driver reports that brakes failed, or a bus was “acting funny” before an accident, that may point to a preventable mechanical failure as the culprit. In that case, the manufacturer of the bus or its parts may face liability for the students’ injuries.
Working with an experienced bus accident lawyer can be the most effective way to investigate liability for an accident that injured your child.
The School’s Liability
Schools have a burden of care for the children entrusted to them throughout the school day. That includes transportation to and from school, and on school-sanctioned trips, on the school bus. Specifically, schools must:
- Provide safe transportation for all students
- Follow state laws regarding student transportation
- Maintain buses in good condition and have them inspected regularly to ensure that there is nothing wrong with the bus that could contribute to accident or injury
- Require inspections from bus drivers before they transport children to ensure that the bus, fire extinguishers, and other important safety equipment are all in working order
- Staff buses appropriately to care for the students on the bus, including students with disabilities who may need additional care
A school may also be held liable vicariously if its employee—that is, the bus driver—is engaging in reckless driving behavior, driving under the influence, or otherwise putting students on the bus in danger. While the bus driver may be the one who is actually liable for an accident that occurs due to these factors, the school district’s insurance carrier will likely be obligated to pay any expenses associated with your child’s care. Working with your lawyer is the most effective way to determine what liability your school district has in the case of an accident.
Bus Company Liability
When the school system chooses to outsource busing services to another bus company, that company is responsible for taking care of the students during their bus ride. It is the responsibility of the school, however, to enforce rules the company must follow to keep students safe. In California, schools must sure private bus companies conduct inspections, evaluate drivers, and maintain adequate safety restraints for students.
The bus company can also be held liable for the behavior of its employees. If the bus driver is employed by the bus company, rather than the school district, the bus company may be liable for student injuries in the event of unsafe driving behavior. This includes driving while intoxicated, distracted driving, and other unsafe driving behaviors.
Who Else Can Be Liable?
In addition to schools and bus companies, several other parties may face legal liability for student injuries in a bus accident. These can include:
Bus and part manufacturers. As noted above, if the manufacturer of the school bus, or a part of the school bus, delivered a defective product, that manufacturer may bear responsibility for the injuries caused when the bus or part failed to perform as expected.
Other drivers. Sometimes bus accidents happen when the bus driver is doing everything right, but the driver of another vehicle isn’t. In those cases, liability may fall on the other driver and parties associated with him, such as his employer or the manufacturer of his vehicle.
Municipalities and private property owners. If road surface conditions caused an accident, whether the road is public or private, the party responsible for maintaining the road surface may face liability for a school bus accident.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers. If a drug manufacturer fails to disclose a harmful or dangerous side effect of a drug, and that side effect leads to a bus driver to driver in an unsafe manner, the drug manufacturer could face liability for the injuries sustained in any accident.
Don’t Wait to Seek Legal Help
If your child has been seriously injured in a school bus accident, you and your child may be entitled to significant compensation. Do not wait to seek legal help to explore your rights. Contact the experienced school bus accident attorneys at Aitken * Aitken * Cohn today online or by phone at (714) 434-1424 to schedule a free consultation.