School bus accidents happen much less frequently than other types of accidents—but they still happen. And schools have a duty of care to keep students safe from harm, whether they’re in the classroom or being transported on a school bus.
If your child is harmed in a school bus accident, you might wonder who is to blame for the accident: the school system or the driver of the bus—or someone else? The answer is, “it depends.” A range of factors must be taken into account when determining the liable party, and we highly advise contacting a bus accident lawyer to help you examine the facts from a legal standpoint.
When looking at who is responsible in a school bus accident, you and your attorney will need to ask the questions like the following.
1. When and Where Did the School Bus Accident Happen?
The location and timing of the accident may shed some light on who was responsible and how it happened.
For example, if the bus was on an unfamiliar route—such as driving students on a field trip or to an away sports game—the driver may have made poor decisions or there may have been unexpected road hazards. Or, if the bus was following its regular route dropping off students at school, other factors may have been at play.
2. Who Else Was Involved in the Accident?
A bus may crash without any other vehicles involved—for example, if it ran off the road and hit an obstacle. This type of accident may indicate the bus driver’s action or bus maintenance is to blame. But if there were other vehicles involved in the accident, those drivers may play a role in the blame.
3. Were There Issues With the Bus?
If the bus driver reported the bus was acting strangely before the collision or having brake issues, a mechanical problem could be the cause of the accident. In that case, the person responsible for bus maintenance or the manufacturer of its parts could be a liability for accident damages.
4. Were Bus Safety Protocols Followed?
There are certain safety protocols a bus driver must follow while operating their bus or after an accident occurs. The school itself must also enforce safety rules with students.
Schools must also:
- Have every bus inspected twice a year
- Make sure buses stay in good condition
- Train bus employees to accommodate students with special needs and disabilities
- Make sure drivers check safety equipment and inspect buses before trips
If any of these methods are not followed and student injuries result, the school or the driver could be responsible.
5. Was the Driver Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol?
Most bus drivers are responsible employees who take their care of students seriously, so this situation is rare. But there have been instances where bus drivers consume alcohol or drugs before getting behind the wheel. Other times, the driver might experience a side effect from a medication that impedes their ability to drive safely.
Either way, being under the influence is very serious and usually the driver is to blame, so any chance of this should be investigated immediately.
When Is the School Responsible?
Schools must provide safe transportation and follow all state safety guidelines for students in their care. That includes having buses inspected and making sure they are in good working condition before getting on the road. If these safety measures are not upheld and a bus accident results, the school can be held liable for injuries.
Even if the bus driving engages in harmful behavior—such as reckless or drunk driving—the school system’s insurance company will probably be responsible for damages, even though the driver’s actions caused the accident. That’s because the school’s duty of care includes properly screening, hiring, and training anyone they employ.
When is the Bus Driver Responsible?
As mentioned above, the school system is usually liable if the bus driver’s actions lead to an accident. This is known as vicarious liability. Even though the driver is liable for their negligence, the school system is vicariously liable (and ultimately responsible for damages) because the accident happened during the course of work duties.
However, if the driver was not employed directly with the school and worked for a contracted company, that company would then be responsible.
Other Parties Who May Be Responsible
Sometimes, a person or party beyond the bus driver or school system is ultimately responsible for the accident.
Depending on the situation, liability could fall on any of the following:
- A bus company from which the school system outsources busing services
- Other drivers involved in the bus accident
- Manufacturer of the bus or its parts
- Property owners or municipalities if the accident was caused by road surface conditions
- A drug manufacturer if the driver takes medication and experiences harmful side effects that weren’t disclosed
As you can probably see, the liability for a bus accident can easily become complicated. But ultimately, the party responsible for the accident is legally liable for covering all costs of the accident in Georgia. That’s why having a bus accident lawyer can be so beneficial. An attorney trained to handle bus accident cases can look at your specific accident and help determine who is actually responsible.
If you or your child was injured in a school bus accident, John Foy & Associates can help. We have been helping personal injury victims for more than two decades, and we know how to fight for the compensation you deserve. For a FREE consultation with one of our bus accident attorneys, call us at 404-400-4000 or fill out the form on this page to get started today.