What Are Your Family’s Legal Rights After a School Bus Accident in Pennsylvania?
It’s back-to-school season in Pennsylvania. While meeting new teachers and classmates can be stressful for students, this time of year can be stressful for parents as well. When you put your children on a school bus, there is nothing you can do to protect them. Unfortunately, while school bus accidents are relatively rare, they do happen, and in some cases, they leave students facing serious (or even life-altering) injuries.
If your child gets injured in a school bus accident in Pennsylvania, what are your family’s legal rights? Here is an overview of what you need to know:
Liability for School Bus Accidents in Pennsylvania
As with any other type of bus accident, determining liability for a school bus accident requires a comprehensive investigation. Several factors can cause (or contribute to causing) these accidents, and identifying the specific factor (or factors) involved is critical for asserting your family’s legal rights. Once you know what happened, then you can identify the responsible party (or parties), and then you can file a claim (or claims) to recover the financial compensation your family deserves.
Some examples of issues that can lead to school bus accidents—and the parties that may be financially responsible for these issues—include:
School Bus Driver Negligence
While all parents hope that their children’s school bus drivers will exercise due care and stay focused on the task at hand, this doesn’t always happen. School bus drivers make mistakes, and sometimes these mistakes lead to accidents. When a school bus driver’s mistake rises to the level of negligence (as will often be the case), parents can file claims to recover just compensation for their children’s injuries. Some examples of school bus driver negligence that can lead to accidents include:
- Driving while distracted (i.e., talking to children or texting)
- Failing to look for children in the road before driving
- Running red lights and stop signs
- Turning or merging without the right of way
When someone who is working causes an accident, his or her employer can typically be held liable. In the context of a school bus accident caused by the bus driver, this typically means holding the school or school district accountable.
Another Driver’s Negligence
Along with bus driver negligence, other drivers’ negligence can also lead to school bus accidents. While the law requires drivers to stop for school buses, not all drivers follow the law. Other common driving mistakes such as speeding, driving while distracted, and running red lights and stop signs can lead to dangerous school bus accidents as well.
When a car, truck or SUV driver causes a school bus accident, seeking just compensation typically involves filing a claim with his or her insurance company. If you have auto insurance, you may be able to file a claim under your policy (if necessary) as well. Parents’ auto insurance policies typically cover their children, and uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage—which is optional in Pennsylvania—can apply even when the parents’ vehicle isn’t involved in a collision.
School Bus Maintenance Issues
While driver negligence is a common factor in school bus accidents, it isn’t the only factor that can put children at risk on their way to or home from school. Issues with the school bus can also lead to dangerous accidents.
If a school bus hasn’t been properly maintained, various issues can increase the risk of the bus being involved in an accident. Brake failures, tire blowouts and other similar types of issues can leave bus drivers helpless to protect the children onboard. If a school or school district neglects the need for maintenance, then it may be liable in the event of an accident. Alternatively, if a shop or garage performs negligent maintenance work, then the shop or garage could be liable for students’ injuries.
School Bus Defects
Sometimes, tire blowouts, brake failures and other issues don’t result from negligent maintenance, but instead from issues that existed when the school bus left the factory. In these scenarios, the issue is classified as a “defect,” and the manufacturer can be held liable. As with all of the other issues we’ve discussed, determining whether a failure is the result of negligent maintenance or a factory defect requires a thorough investigation.
Issues with a Road, Crosswalk or Traffic Signal
Along with bus-related issues, road-related issues can also be to blame (or at least partially to blame) for school bus accidents in some cases. Dangerous crosswalks, malfunctioning traffic signals, potholes, and inadequate road treatment in inclement weather are all issues that can put students at risk of being injured in collisions. When a road-related issue causes (or contributes to causing) a school bus accident, the government agency that is responsible for maintaining the road can often be held liable.
Public vs. Private: Filing a Claim After a School Bus Accident
When filing a claim based on bus driver negligence or inadequate school bus maintenance, there is an important distinction between cases involving private schools and public schools. Filing a claim against a private school is similar to filing a claim against any other business. The same basic legal principles apply, and, usually, recovering just compensation will involve dealing with the school’s insurance company.
Filing a claim against a public school district is different. School districts are governmental entities, and governmental entities are entitled to special protections (under the “sovereign immunity” doctrine) in some cases. There are special procedures for filing personal injury claims against governmental entities in Pennsylvania as well. As a result, while engaging experienced legal representation after a school bus accident is important in all cases when dealing with a situation involving a public school bus, it is especially important to choose a law firm that has specific experience with these types of claims.
Speak with a Lawyer About Your Family’s Legal Rights in Confidence
If your child has been injured in a school bus accident in Pennsylvania, we can help you seek the financial compensation your family deserves. With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton and Stroudsburg, we handle school bus accident cases statewide. To get started with a free, no-obligation consultation, call 888-777-7098 or tell us how we can reach you online today.