According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), riding a school bus is the safest way for your child to get to school. This is because school buses are heavily regulated and designed to be safer than the vast majority of passenger vehicles on the road. However, accidents still happen. The NHTSA estimates that between four to six children die while riding on a school bus every year, and many others suffer non-fatal injuries. If your child is injured while riding the bus to or from school, it’s important to understand your legal options.
Liability For School Bus Accidents
A number of parties could be liable for the injuries sustained in a bus accident, which is one reason why these cases are so complex. Bus accidents are often caused by the bus driver’s negligence, meaning the bus driver is liable for the victims’ injuries. The employer of the bus driver can also be held liable in situations like these where the driver’s negligence directly led to a crash.
It is also possible that the bus accident was caused by a defective part, such as faulty brakes or bad tires. In this case, the bus driver cannot be blamed for the accident. Instead, the fault lies with the manufacturer of the defective part.
Most school bus accidents involve other vehicles on the road. When a bus and vehicle collide, the fault could lie with either the bus driver or the driver of the passenger vehicle. For example, if the other driver runs a red light and collides with the school bus, the other driver is liable for the victims’ injuries.
Taking Legal Action Against School Districts
Most school buses are owned and operated by the school district. As a result, the school district could be liable if the bus driver’s negligence causes an accident. However, the school district is a government entity, and recovering compensation from a government entity for a personal injury is not easy.
The legal doctrine of sovereign immunity protects government entities from civil liability under most circumstances. But, the immunity is waived in most cases where a government employee, such as a school bus driver, is responsible for a traffic accident.
The process for filing a claim against a government entity is different from the standard process for filing a personal injury claim. Before a lawsuit is filed, the victim must serve a notice of intent to sue to the attorney general. The attorney general will review the notice to determine if the sovereign immunity should be waived or not. If the attorney general believes the school district is protected by sovereign immunity, the lawsuit cannot proceed.
Victims have two years from the date of the accident to file a claim against the school district, so it’s important to move fast to ensure you do not miss this deadline. Even though you have two years to file the claim, you must notify the government entity of the accident much sooner. If you suffered more than $1,000 in damages and would like to take legal action against the government, you are required to notify the government entity of the accident within 72 hours. You do not need to serve the notice of intent to sue within 72 hours–you simply need to let them know the accident occurred.
The school district could be ordered to pay both economic and non-economic damages to the victims. Economic damages cover medical expenses and lost wages, whereas non-economic damages cover pain and suffering. Government entities do not pay punitive damages, which means victims of school bus accidents will not be awarded punitive damages if they take legal action against the school district.
Taking Legal Action Against Other Drivers
If another driver was responsible for the accident, it is much easier to take legal action and recover compensation for your injuries. The at-fault driver’s insurance company would be responsible for compensating the victims for their injuries, but only if it can be proven that their policyholder was to blame. A personal injury attorney can build a convincing case to prove liability using evidence such as police reports, witness testimony, and medical records.
Once liability has been proven, your attorney can start negotiating with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to reach a fair settlement. If the insurance company is unwilling to offer a fair settlement, your attorney can file a lawsuit and take the case to court. However, most personal injury cases are settled in negotiations outside of the courtroom.
Taking Legal Action Against Manufacturers
If a school bus accident was caused by a defective part, the manufacturer of the part is most likely liable for the victims’ injuries. Therefore, the victims will need to file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer. Product liability cases are extremely complex. An attorney will need to work with experts to build a case that clearly shows the part was defective and that defect directly caused the accident. If this can be proven, the manufacturer would be responsible for compensating victims for their medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Contact An Attorney Immediately After the Crash
It is in your family’s best interests to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a school bus accident. An attorney will immediately begin investigating the accident to determine how it was caused and who is responsible. You can focus solely on helping your child recover from this tragic experience while your attorney handles the rest.
If your child has been injured in a school bus accident, contact Trial Lawyers for Justice today to schedule a consultation regarding your case. Our team of personal injury attorneys are committed to helping families recover the compensation they deserve.