School Bus Injuries – Who Is Liable?
Schools have a duty to care for the safety and health of students who are under their protection. This duty is not only operational whenever a child is in the classroom. It also applies whenever a child is in the school fields, in the school bus or even on a school trip. Therefore, parents of children injured in a school bus as a result of someone’s negligence can sue for breach of that duty of care.
Deciding the right person to sue, however, can be difficult. Do you sue the school, the school district, or the contracted bus company? A New Jersey bus accident attorney can help you figure out the right defendant or defendants for your claim.
Who Is Liable for Your Child’s School Bus Injury?
The first role of an attorney in a school injury case is determining the potentially liable parties. This is not always black and white. For example, many schools, both public and private, operate their own school buses. If this is the case, then the school itself has a duty to ensure the health and safety of students using its school buses. Other schools contract these transportation services to private bus companies. In such instances, the school should detail the private contractor’s duties to take care of the children in the contract. Each party’s duties should be clearly laid out in the contract.
Let’s say a bus driver was driving recklessly, while distracted or while under the influence and causes an accident. If the driver was an employee of the school, the driver will be liable for negligence and the school will be vicariously liable as the employer. If the driver worked for a contracted private company, the private company will be vicariously liable.
With regard to bus drivers, a school or private contractor may also be held liable for negligent hiring or failure to train and supervise.
Let’s say a school bus is required to have booster seats for kindergarten students. If the school fails to provide these booster seats and a child is injured when the school bus hit a pothole on the road, the school is liable. If the school contracted the service to a private bus company, it must specifically require the company to provide booster seats in the contract. If the school failed to disclose that, the company cannot be held liable for injuries arising because the bus did not have booster seats. If the school did require that in the contract, then the private company is liable.
Schools are also required to:
- Maintain buses in good condition
- Have buses inspected twice a year
- Require drivers to conduct pre-trip bus inspections and check safety equipment such as fire extinguishers
- Staff buses with trained personnel to accommodate students with disabilities using wheelchairs and to handle disputes between students with behavioral issues, where applicable.
Where a school fails to meet these standards and this leads to a child’s injury, the school is liable. If the services are contracted and the duties spelled out in the contract, the private company is liable.
Other Parties Who May Be Liable
- School bus manufacturers – School busses must be manufactured so that they are fit for their specific purpose. Federal agencies require school buses to be manufactured according to specific guidelines to protect children in case of an accident. Manufacturers who fail to do this can be held liable for injuries resulting from this failure.
- Seat belt manufacturers – School buses in New Jersey must have seat belts. If a seat belt malfunctions, causing injury to a child, the seat belt manufacturer can be held liable.
- Government agencies – Public entities can be held liable for dangerous conditions to property such as intersections, roadways and road defects. However, there are several conditions that must be met for such a claim to prevail.