School Bus Driver Negligence: When is the Pennsylvania District Liable?

School buses are a fundamental part of the education system in Pennsylvania, transporting thousands of children to and from school every day. While school bus transportation is generally considered safe, accidents can still occur, and the question of liability often arises. Below, we will explore the legal implications of school bus driver negligence and when the Pennsylvania school district can be held liable for damages.

Traffic Fatality Statistics in Pennsylvania

Before delving into the legal aspects, it’s essential to understand the context of traffic safety in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), traffic fatalities in the state have fluctuated over the past few years. In 2019, Pennsylvania witnessed its lowest number of traffic fatalities since record-keeping began in 1928, with 1,059 fatalities. However, the trend reversed in 2020 and 2021, with fatalities increasing to 1,129 and 1,230, respectively. Encouragingly, the figures showed a 4% decrease in 2022, with 1,179 fatalities. Nonetheless, early crash data estimates suggest that 2023 traffic fatalities may rise again compared to 2022 numbers. On top of this, thousands of people will be seriously injured on Pennsylvania roads this year.

Defining Negligence in School Bus Operations

Negligence, in the context of school bus operations, refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care and caution when transporting students. School bus drivers are expected to operate their vehicles safely, follow traffic laws, and prioritize the well-being of their passengers. Negligent actions or omissions that lead to accidents or injuries can make the school bus driver and the school district liable for damages.

Common Examples of School Bus Negligence

Common examples of school bus driver negligence include:

  1. Distracted driving (e.g., using a mobile phone, eating, or engaging in other activities that divert attention from the road)
  2. Reckless or aggressive driving (e.g., speeding, running red lights, or failing to yield)
  3. Failure to properly secure students or follow established safety protocols.
  4. Operating the bus while tired or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  5. Failure to maintain the bus in proper working condition (e.g., neglecting routine maintenance or ignoring known mechanical issues.

School District Liability

  • Vicarious Liability and Respondeat Superior – The legal doctrine of vicarious liability, also known as respondeat superior, states that an employer can be held accountable for the negligent actions of its employees if the actions happen within the period of their employment. This means that if a school bus driver’s negligence causes an accident or injury while transporting students, the school district that employs the driver may be liable for the resulting damages.
  • Duty of Care and Reasonable Precautions – School districts have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their students while they are under the district’s supervision, including during transportation on school buses. This duty requires school districts to take reasonable precautions, such as conducting background checks, providing adequate training, and implementing safety policies and procedures for their bus drivers. If a school district fails to take reasonable precautions and this failure contributes to an accident or injury caused by a negligent bus driver, the district may be held liable for damages. For example, if a school district knowingly employed a bus driver with a history of reckless driving or failed to properly maintain its bus fleet, it could be found negligent and liable for any resulting injuries or damages.
  • Limitations and Defenses – It’s important to note that school district liability is not absolute. There are certain limitations and defenses that may apply in specific cases. For instance, if a student’s own negligence contributed to the accident or injury, the school district’s liability may be reduced or eliminated based on the principle of comparative negligence. Additionally, school districts may have certain legal protections or immunities under state laws, or governmental tort claims acts, which could limit or cap their liability in certain circumstances.

Steps to Take After a School Bus Crash

It can be quite traumatic if you are injured in a school bus accident. In such situations, it’s important to take prompt and appropriate actions to protect your rights and ensure the well-being of everyone involved. Anyone involved in a school bus crash should follow these steps:

  1. Visit the hospital: Call for help immediately if anyone is injured and follow the instructions of medical professionals.
  2. Notify Authorities: Contact the local police or highway patrol to report the accident. They will create an official report, which can be valuable evidence in any subsequent legal proceedings.
  3. Document What Happened: If it is safe to do so, take videos or photographs of where the accident occurred, including photos of where the vehicles are positioned, any damage, and the surrounding area. These visual records can help establish liability and support your case.
  4. Request Information: Get the names and contact information of all parties involved, including the school bus driver, the school district, and any other drivers or witnesses present at the scene.
  5. Avoid Admitting Fault: Refrain from making any statements that could be construed as admitting fault or liability. Even a simple apology can be misconstrued as an admission of guilt.
  6. Speak to an Attorney: Consider speaking with a skilled attorney who specializes in school bus accidents and negligence cases. A knowledgeable lawyer can help you navigate the legal process, protect your rights, and ensure you receive adequate compensation for the injuries you sustained in the crash. If you find yourself in need of legal representation after a school bus accident, consider consulting with our attorneys at Monge & Associates. You can find our team of specialists in 32 locations across 19 states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington. Monge & Associates has a team of experienced lawyers who can assist you in such cases.

School bus driver negligence can have severe consequences, putting the lives of students and other motorists at risk. While school districts have a duty to ensure the safety of their students during transportation, they can also be held liable for damages resulting from their bus driver’s negligent actions. Pennsylvania school districts must take reasonable precautions to prevent accidents, such as implementing thorough hiring practices, providing adequate training, and enforcing safety protocols for their bus drivers. Failure to do so may expose the district to liability if an accident occurs due to a driver’s negligence. If you’ve been affected by a school bus crash, or you know someone who has, contact Monge & Associates.

We will help you claim the compensation you’re entitled to. You can call us for a free consultation on (888) 477-0597.