Who is liable if a child is injured while entering or exiting a bus?
As with most things dealing with the law, the definitive answer is, it depends. Certainly, entering or exiting a bus poses dangers for children. Many have barely mastered walking and are asked to negotiate steps. In addition, often children have to cross a street after they have exited the bus. The particular circumstances of any child's accident are crucial to determining whether or not the school district has liability.
If your child has been injured at a school bus stop, the attorneys at Grossman Law Offices are committed to maximizing compensation for your child's injuries, while fighting tirelessly to achieve justice on their behalf.
Questions answered on this page:
- In what circumstances is a school district or manufacturer responsible for a child's injuries when entering or leaving a school bus?
- How does the Texas Tort Claims Act affect your child's ability to be compensated for injuries sustained entering or leaving a school bus?
- How can an experienced school bus accident attorney help maximize your recover?
When is the school liable for a child's accident that occurs when the child is entering or exiting a school bus?Quite naturally, Texas law views school bus drivers as authority figures for children on their bus. As such, the law assumes that children are in most instances going to obey the commands and instructions of a bus driver. Since children view the driver as an authority figure, the driver owes certain duties regarding the well being of the children on the bus.
Since bus drivers are generally employees of a school district, the ultimate liability for a bus driver's negligence rests with the school district, based on the doctrine of respondeat superior. This doctrine holds that superiors bear liability of those who they have chosen to act on their behalf. More simply put, if you're doing something for you boss, on the clock, furthering your boss' interest, your boss shares liability for your conduct.
The following are just a couple of examples of where a school bus driver's negligence could make them responsible for your child's injuries, sustained while entering or exiting a school bus:
When the bus driver hits a child
While many of us have not been on a school bus in years, it can be a truly chaotic environment, like pretty much any other time that a large group of highly energetic kids are kept in a small space. This creates an exceptionally distracting driving environment. That, coupled with children being smaller and more difficult to see, can often have tragic results.[iparticle id="1"]
One of the more common injuries that children sustain when entering or exiting a school bus is when the bus driver fails to see the child in front of the bus and hits the child. These accidents usually occur because the driver is distracted by something inside the bus, which momentarily takes their attention away from watching children cross the street. The driver looks up, doesn't see a child and assumes that the child has run off. Since children can easily be out of the driver's line of sight if they are crossing too closely to the front of the bus, this can be a recipe for disaster.
This phenomenon is why many newer school buses are designed with flat front ends, so that a driver has a better line of sight. However, there are still companies who manufacture the old style school bus with the driver seated behind the engine block, with a larger blind spot in the front of the vehicle.
Another common cause of this type of accident is that the child drops something in front of the bus. Being a child, their instinct is to instantly pick it up. When they crouch down, the small child, is even more difficult for a bus driver to spot. Again the bus driver assumes the child has finished crossing and run off. The school bus driver starts to drive and strikes the child who is crouched in front of the bus.
Since bus drivers are transporting children, they have a heightened duty to keep a proper lookout. A proper lookout where children are concerned is a significantly higher legal duty than when dealing with adults. That is why if the bus driver hits the child with the bus, while the child is entering or exiting, there is a very good likelihood that the bus driver is liable for the child's injury.
A failure to extend the stop sign or engage the buses flashing lights
In some ways, school buses function like mobile stop signs. When the bus is embarking or discharging children, the bus driver is required to extend the stop sign attached to the bus, as well as engage the bus' flashing hazard lights. The reasons for this are obvious. Since other motorists can't really anticipate where a school bus is going to stop to take on or let off passengers, the bus has a duty to warn fellow motorists.[iparticle id="2"]
Since the bus is carrying children, who the law does not expect to possess the same judgment as adults, each time the bus stops, a temporary stop sign exists for all traffic, to permit the child to more safely cross the street. That is why in many buses, the stop sign extends automatically when the doors open.
However, sometimes through carelessness, a bus driver will stop, let a child out who needs to cross the street and drive off before the child has had the opportunity to cross the street. This defeats the purpose of buses being mobile stop signs, since it withdraws the protection of the stop sign for the child crossing the street. The child, who the law already admits is not as capable of making good judgments is left to cross at their own peril.
If the child is then struck by a car, crossing without the protection of the bus' stop sign, then the bus driver, who withdrew that protection and drove off, failed in a duty that he owed the child. In that situation, the bus driver's negligence would have contributed to the child's injuries and the injured child would have a solid legal claim to damages.
When the bus driver assumes a greater duty to assist the child
Generally speaking, the bus driver's duty extends to making sure that the bus' lights are flashing and stop sign is extended. As far as crossing the street, the child is pretty much on their own once the bus driver has fulfilled their duty to establish the temporary stop sign. The exception to this circumstance is when the bus driver, as an authority figure, actively chooses to assume more responsibility in aiding the child crossing the street.
One of the pioneering cases in school bus driver liability centered around just such a scenario. Everyday a bus driver would help a child cross the street. The driver would keep a lookout for oncoming traffic and honk the bus' horn when it was safe for the child to cross. One day, the driver honked the horn, signalling for the child to cross. Tragically, the bus driver did not see a drunk driver, who fatally struck the child.
If the same situation had occurred without the bus driver's arrangement of signalling the child when it was safe to cross, the bus driver would have not been negligent, since under normal circumstances the bus driver has no duty to ensure that the children cross safely, only to use the stop sign and flashing lights to provide as safe an environment as possible for helping the child cross.
Since the bus driver took on a greater duty by telling the child when it was safe to cross the street, the bus driver can be held negligent when he fails in that duty.
Applying the Texas Tort Claims Act to City and School Buses
Since bus drivers are usually school employees, it is ultimately the school district who is responsible for accidents that result from a driver's negligence when a child is entering or exiting a school bus. The school district is also a government entity, which means that recovering damages in a school bus accident injury claim is governed by the Texas Tort Claims Act.[iparticle id="3"]
The Texas Tort Claims Act, in 1969, waives portions of the state's sovereign immunity, which allows people to sue the state in certain instances and recover damages. While that is good news for those whose child has been injured by a school bus driver's negligence in that they are able to recover some damages, the bad news is that damages are capped.
It has been determined by case law (Canutillo ISD v. White) that school districts fall into the category of government units where the cap is $100,000 per person and $300,000 per incident. Since children's medical bills are generally more expensive when they have been injured, coupled with the greater severity of a child's injuries when they have been struck by a vehicle, it is easy to see how a child's injuries can quickly exceed $100,000.
Making matters worse, if the negligence of a bus driver results in severe injuries to more than 3 children, there is a very real possibility the $300,000 per incident cap could kick in before the $100,000 per person cap is reached.
As if the damage caps were not bad enough, the Texas Tort Claims Act also has a notice requirement before a lawsuit can be filed against a government entity. This can range anywhere from 45 to 6 months. In most of Texas' major cities such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, the notice deadline is 90 days after an accident. What this means is that if you do not notify the school district within notice time frame set out in local charters then you lose the ability to pursue a claim. In essence the claim vanishes.
How an experienced bus accident can help maximize your claim.
Even if it is clear that the school bus driver's negligence led to your child's injuring while entering or exiting a school bus, it does not mean that the school district is just going to admit it and pay for your child's damages. Since almost every school district has at least one attorney on their staff, it doesn't cost them any extra money to vigorously fight your case. The only way to make the school district pay is by showing that you can take them to court and win. That knowledge gives you leverage and leverage is key to maximizing a settlement or jury award.
At Grossman Law Offices we understand that while compensation is important to families whose child has been injured, just as important is holding those whose negligence contributed to the accident accountable. Holding bad actors accountable makes it less likely that another family will have to endure the same heartache and pain that any family suffers when a child is injured. For over 25 years our attorneys have represented children injured in bus, car, and truck accidents. The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices are available any time, day or night, to provide a free consultation regarding your child's potential personal injury lawsuit at (855) 326-0000.
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