In mid-January, 27 people—mostly students—were injured in a chain-reaction accident involving three school buses in Fairfield. The buses were travelling in a row when the sudden stop of the first bus caused the second bus to rear-end the first bus, and the third bus to rear-end the second bus. Though parents were understandably concerned, fortunately the injuries suffered were reported as fairly minor, and the school district was able to send back-up buses to take the rest of the students home.
How Safe Are School Buses?
Parents trust that the school district will keep their children safe every day, and news of a school bus accident involving children can be horrifying. Despite the anxiety every parent feels when their kids are off at school, school buses are fairly safe. Every year, 23.5 million school children ride a bus regularly. Although 40 percent of injuries involving school buses result from vehicular accidents, most of the injuries are minor, and school bus fatalities are rare: on average, there are only six passenger deaths across the U.S. per year.
Bus seats may not have seat belts, but the high seat backs keep the passengers separated, and the extensive padding on the seats absorb a great deal of the force in a head-on or rear-end collision. Rollover accidents are far more dangerous, but they are also much, much rarer. In addition to the mass of the bus shifting around the passengers, the passengers are thrown sideways where there are no pads to protect them. Some experts have advocated more padding on the walls of the bus, and between windows. Others believe that seat belts would keep our school children safer.
The installation of seat belts, on its own, however, would not improve safety. The children must actually use the seat belts. Large school buses shuttle many children at a time, and it is often difficult for a sole driver to get rambunctious kids to stay in their seats, much less use a seat belt. Furthermore, younger children are not properly protected with just a regular lap belt: they require a chest harness to avoid internal injuries sustained during an accident. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended against installing lap-only belts on school buses because of the risks they posed to younger children. Three-point (lap and shoulder) belts, on the other hand, are safer for children of all ages, but school districts struggle with the costs of outfitting their bus fleets.
Here Are Some Tips for Teaching Your Children to Stay Safe When Riding the School Bus:
- Wait for the bus on the sidewalk, away from the road.
- Use the handrail when getting on and off the bus.
- If seat belts are available, use them.
- Stay in your seat on the bus.
- Wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up.
- When crossing in front of the bus, make sure you are at least 10 feet away so that the driver can clearly see you.
- Do not go near the rear wheels of the bus.
- Watch out for cars passing by.
If you are driving near a bus, watch for flashing yellow or red lights. You are required to stop when children are getting on or off the bus, and you should keep an eye out for children nearby even once the bus has pulled away.
My Child Was Injured in a School Bus Accident, What Can I Do?
Despite the clean track record of school buses, accidents do happen and you will want to make sure your child receives thorough compensation for any injuries and pain suffered. First, prioritize your child’s medical needs and make sure they are taken care of. Document the injuries your child has sustained and collect the medical reports and bills that arise from the accident, as well as any prospects for long-term expenses your child might accrue in the days to come.
Next, determine who caused the accident and make a claim against the insurance company for the party responsible. Like regular motorists, state law requires that school bus drivers carry motor vehicle insurance.
Ohio Revised Code section 4501-1-06 sets the minimum insurance coverage for bus drivers:
- $500k in bodily insurance liability per person;
- $1 million in bodily insurance liability per accident;
- $500k in property damage liability per accident;
- $5,000 in medical payment per person; and
- A policy with an umbrella coverage of $1 million.
It is possible that the insurance will be enough to compensate your family. If, however, the offered settlement is insufficient or unfair, you may need to proceed with a lawsuit against the responsible party. Things get complicated, though, if a public school bus driver was responsible for harming your child. Unlike regular car accidents involving private citizens, suing the bus driver is—essentially—suing the government. A bus driver is an employee of the school district, and the school district is responsible for the driver’s conduct while on the job. The school district is part of the city or state government, and governmental entities are protected against certain types of lawsuits. There is, however, an exception in section 2744.02(B)(1) for the “negligent operation of a motor vehicle within the scope of employment and authority.” Therefore if the school bus driver was negligent while doing their job (i.e., while driving students) and caused an accident resulting in “injury, death, or loss to person or property,” you can file suit.
Contact an Experienced Cincinnati Lawyer Today
The attorneys of the Chester Law Group Co. LPA can help your family if your child was injured in a school bus accident. Our dedicated Cincinnati car crash lawyers can review any insurance settlements offered in order to best ensure that your child receives just compensation for any injuries and pain caused by the accident. If the settlement offer is insufficient, we will also fight for what you need in court and guide you through the complexities of suing a school district for negligence. Although it may be wise to wait and see if your child is suffering from hidden or long-term injuries from the accident, there is a two-year statute of limitations on when you can file suit, so you should not delay in reaching out for a free consultation to discuss the steps you need to take to preserve your claim.