Buses carrying students and commuters are commonplace, especially in New York. It’s no wonder, then, that buses are involved in about 63,000 crashes annually. Sadly, many of these crashes involve school buses or private carriers contracted to transport students.
School bus accidents can run the gamut from minor fender benders to catastrophic accidents with serious injuries and even fatalities. Fortunately, accidents of this magnitude are relatively rare, but any school bus accident is traumatic for children, and your child could be left with costly and debilitating injuries.
Worse, many school bus accidents are preventable, and might not have happened if it weren’t for the operators’ negligence, or reckless driving on the part of other motorists involved in the crash.
If your child is injured in a school bus accident, you may wish to hold the responsible parties accountable with a personal injury lawsuit, and recover damages for injuries what would otherwise be a substantial financial burden for the entire family.
However, school bus accident liability is complex, as it’s not always easy to determine who is liable, and any claim against a public school will be subject to special rules. Below, we provide a guide to determining liability and seeking damages in school bus accidents.
Common Causes of New York School Bus Accidents
Determining the cause of your child’s school bus accident will be key in seeking damages.
Common causes of school bus accidents include:
- Negligence or other wrongdoing by the bus driver
- Improper maintenance of the school bus
- Defective bus design
- Actions of other drivers on the road
- Failure of the school district to property screen and train drivers
Whoever is responsible for the accident should be responsible for compensating accident victims for damages. Identifying the cause of your child’s school bus accident is the first step in determining who is liable.
Entities Who May Potentially Be Liable in NY School Bus Accidents
Any kind of bus accident liability is complex, as there are often multiple parties involved in the operation of bus lines, and if any of these parties fall down on the job, an accident can result.
In most cases, the school district, bus operating company, bus manufacturer, or other drivers involved in the accident may be held liable under the following circumstances:
- Bus driver’s employer: If the accident was caused by the bus driver, the driver’s employer will be held accountable. This includes negligence and other wrongdoing committed by the bus driver, as well as errors made due to lack of driver training. Generally, bus drivers work for the school district, but some schools may contract with private transit companies or the MTA. In this case, the transit company or MTA would be held accountable.
- Bus manufacturer: If the accident was caused by some fault in the bus’s design (for example, defective safety features), the bus manufacturer will be held accountable.
- Bus operator: If the accident was caused by improper maintenance, the operator will be held accountable. In most cases, this will be the school district or transit contractor.
- Other drivers: If another driver caused the school bus accident, this individual will be held liable.
Once you have determined cause and liability, you can move forward with filing a personal injury claim.
Sovereign Immunity in New York Public Schools
In many cases, the school district is held liable for school bus accidents. This presents special challenges, as public schools are considered government agencies, and their employees are considered government employees.
Government agencies and employees have special legal immunity from being sued, known as sovereign immunity. This means that school districts and their employees cannot be sued under most circumstances.
However, if the accident was caused by negligence, sovereign immunity may be waived. It is therefore possible to hold public school districts accountable for your child’s injury, but the process of establishing negligence, reporting injuries, and recovering damages is complex and follows special rules. Therefore, this process generally requires the knowledge of a NY personal injury attorney experienced in school bus accidents.
One of the most important factors in sovereign immunity is that the statute of limitations is much shorter. Prior to filing a lawsuit against the school district, you must submit a formal written complaint within 60 days of the accident. This means if your child is involved in a school accident of any kind, you must act quickly to recover damages.
There are, of course, other factors to consider as well. For example, the school district’s cap on personal injury damages, and how to establish negligence. It can be tough to navigate the complexities of school bus accident liability, but it is possible when you have the right team on your side.