Millions of children take ride the bus to school each day, usually without incident. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that school buses are the safest way for children to get to and from school. As safe as these vehicles are, thousands of kids are injured in school bus accidents each year, sometimes seriously. This issue hit close to home earlier this week, as three teenage students at Natick’s Brandon School and Residential Treatment Center were injured when their bus collided with a minivan on Monday. According to a report published by the MetroWest Daily News, authorities indicated that their injuries were minor, and that both drivers would likely be cited as a result of the incident.
School bus accidents raise several legal issues that may not be present in a car accident case involving private parties. For one, school buses are often operated by private companies or by a municipality itself, both of which may bring up issues of who could be held liable, as well as if a party could be held liable at all. In the case of a private school bus operator, the legal doctrine of respondeat superior may come into play. Under this doctrine, an employer is liable for the tortious conduct of its employee if it occurs within the normal course of business. What this means is that if a school bus driver negligently caused an accident, the company that hired the bus driver could potentially be held liable for any losses that resulted.
If the school bus is operated by a municipality or the state, sovereign immunity may limit or even bar a lawsuit against the operator. Sovereign immunity means that the government or its units may not be sued unless it has consented to be sued. Fortunately for school bus accident victims, the state of Massachusetts has consented to lawsuits against itself and its subdivisions through the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act, albeit to certain liability limits.
Another party that may be liable in a school bus accident case is the school bus manufacturer or the manufacturer of any equipment on the bus, such as tires or brakes. Under general product liability principles, parties at fault for any defective design or manufacturer, as well as a failure to warn regarding a dangerous condition, may be held liable if their negligence results in an accident. Some common examples of defective design or manufacture that could result in an accident include:
- Brake failure
- Steering failure
- Rollover accidents
- Tire blowouts
- Suspension problems
As these examples should make clear, school bus accidents are often much more complicated that other types of motor vehicle accidents. As a result, anyone who has been affected by one should contact an experienced Framingham school bus accident attorney as soon as possible for a free consultation. Attorney Daniel Cappetta is an experienced Massachusetts lawyer who is dedicated to aggressively representing the rights of those injured by the negligence of others. To schedule a free consultation with Mr. Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505.