Shortly before our country shut down to slow the spread of the COVID-19l pandemic in March, a bus driver was injured in a crash with a landscaping truck.
The traffic crash occurred in Hudson, Florida, as the school bus headed home from Moon Lake Elementary School.
The school bus collided with a landscape truck at an intersection, injuring both drivers. The two students who were riding on the bus at the time of the accident were taken in for a medical evaluation.
Who Is Liable for School Bus Crashes?
The school bus crash raises some interesting questions about bus drivers and their liability in auto accidents. The Hudson accident was also hardly an isolated accident — Every year, an estimated 17,000 kids are injured in accidents involving school buses.
Injuries occur when children are riding the bus, getting off of the bus, or standing close to a bus. Over 40 percent of school bus injuries are caused by auto crashes.
School bus drivers are charged with quite a bit of responsibility and face risks that most other drivers do not. Not only do school bus drivers have to handle regular dangers of driving — like distracted drivers and inclement weather — but they have the added stress of doing it in a large vehicle, and they are also liable for the safety of the children aboard.
The School District Is Usually Liable, But Not Always
In the event of a bus accident, the school district is typically liable. However, when the driver has been hired by a third-party contracting agency, things can get complicated.
When a third-party agency is involved, the language in the contract must be examined closely to determine who is liable in the event of a school bus crash.
Florida School Bus Liability Law
According to Florida law, school buses must be covered by liability insurance to protect the students on board. Insurance policies must be at least $5,000 times the seating capacity of the school bus or $100,000 — whichever is higher.
This ensures that in the event of an accident, injured parties can receive compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and overall pain and suffering.
When the policies do not cover the full cost of a victim’s medical treatment, the injured parties may need to file a personal injury claim against the school district or third-party contracting agency.
School and Bus Driver Responsibilities
As Florida prepares to return to school this fall, school districts should be prepared to keep young riders from harm on the bus ride to school. School districts have a responsibility to protect riders by providing the following:
School Bus Maintenance
Buses must be maintained in a safe operating condition and thoroughly inspected on a regular basis. School bus drivers should inspect their vehicles before every trip.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, schools must disinfect buses with an electrostatic sprayer. Bus drivers should clean high-touch surfaces after every route.
Particularly in the age of social-distancing, school buses should not be overcrowded. In addition to making it easier for the virus to spread among students, overcrowded buses create unsafe conditions and lead to accidents.
Qualified Bus Drivers
School districts should hire bus drivers with the appropriate license. Ideally, drivers should have a clean driving record that is free of speeding tickets, DUI offenses, and traffic violations.
In Florida, school buses are required to have certain equipment. This includes:
- A fire extinguisher
- A first-aid kit
- Safety glass on windows
- Secure seats
Adherence to State School Bus Laws
School bus drivers are subject to additional rules on the road, including:
- Remaining at least 20 feet away from other vehicles when stopping
- Paying close attention to what passengers are doing before and after the ride
- Stopping at railroad tracks not more than 50 feet or less than 15 feet from the nearest rail
Safety experts tend to agree that riding a school bus is one of the safest ways for children to get to school. However, when school districts fail to ensure safe vehicles and drivers or to enforce safety rules, the consequences can be devastating for everyone involved.
Know Your Rights as You Head Back to Work This Fall
School bus accidents can be particularly dangerous because there are typically no seatbelts available to riders. In more severe bus crashes, riders may suffer whiplash, broken bones, internal bleeding, and brain injuries.
If you are a bus driver, know your rights and who should be held responsible. You deserve the same protection as every student on your bus.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and named one of America’s Top 100 High-Stakes Litigators. Mr. Winston is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2020 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – was voted to Florida Trend’s ”Legal Elite,” recognized by Expertise as one of the 20 Best Fort Lauderdale personal injury attorneys, named one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015-2017, and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida for 2015-2017 and 2019.