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Who is Liable in a School Bus Accident?

The start of fall means more than just foliage and cooler temperatures. With the return of students to school and snowbirds escaping the heat, roadways become increasingly more congested and vehicle accidents abound.  Seldom do we think about the possibility of ourselves or loved ones being involved in a school bus accident. However, despite the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) branding the school bus as the safest vehicle on the road, a school bus accident can present serious, and even fatal, consequences.

In fact, nearly 200 motor vehicle crashes involving school buses were reported in Arizona last year alone, resulting in four deaths and over 40 serious injuries. From medical expenses to property and other damages, the costs associated with a school bus accident can be staggering. Pursuing compensation for damages suffered, however, can be a complex and frustrating matter.  Often, it’s unclear who is liable, especially if multiple parties are involved. Determining liability in a school bus accident is key to filing a legal claim. If you or a loved one are injured in a school bus accident, it’s crucial to understand the different theories of liability.

School District Negligence

It’s important to note that most school buses are operated and owned by the school district.  Therefore, the district is legally obligated to provide safe transportation, qualified drivers, and regular vehicle maintenance in accordance with state laws and NHTSA standards. Consequently, in the event of a school bus accident, blame is often aimed at the school district first. Even if the bus driver’s lack of training or poor/distracted driving caused the accident, the district may still be the party held liable. This is because of a legal principle in which employers are held accountable for their employees’ actions.

Private Bus Company Negligence

The school district is not always the party to assume fault, however. In some cases, districts use third-party or private companies to provide school bus transportation. In this situation, the school district may not be held liable at all or may only assume partial liability depending on its level of involvement with the company. For example, if the district was required to carefully monitor or audit the activity of the private company, then the district could potentially face a portion of the blame. Determining liability in a school bus accident when a third-party company is involved requires a careful review and examination of contracts in place to identify the specific responsibilities held by each party.

School Bus Manufacturer Negligence

Sometimes technical defects are to blame in a school bus accident. In other words, if a malfunction occurs outside of a school district’s or driver’s control, such as faulty engine parts or brake failure, the manufacturer could possibly be held responsible for injuries and damages.  Product liability law, which refers to a manufacturer being held liable for releasing a defective product into the market, often comes into play in these circumstances.

Negligence of Another Driver

In many situations, neither the driver nor the bus is responsible for a school bus accident. Injuries and damages are often caused by the negligence of another driver. From speeding and tailgating to texting while driving and disobeying traffic rules, other motorists may face full or partial liability. If you believe another driver is at fault, it’s critical to obtain a police report, witness statements, and other pertinent records. Furnishing these documents will prove necessary when it comes to working with insurance companies to pursue compensation.

When to Contact an Attorney

If you or a loved one has been injured or suffered damages in a school bus accident, it’s imperative that you take immediate action. Most states have a prescribed statute of limitations that limit the amount of time a person has to file a legal claim.  Navigating the challenges and complexities of a bus accident situation can be daunting. Seeking the counsel of an experienced attorney is the only way to ensure that you are working effectively to secure compensation. Contact us today to discuss your school bus accident claim and legal rights.