School Bus Accidents
While it may seem too horrific to imagine, sending children to ride on a school bus can, on occasion, result in tragedy. Every year in Seattle, Kirkland, and Olympia, people are either injured on a school bus or injured by a school bus.
The tragedy is usually two-fold: either for the child riding the bus, who is hurt while on the bus or the bus causes an accident with another drive on the road or pedestrian. Given the large size of school buses, these accidents can be very serious, if not fatal. The average school bus weighs somewhere between 25,000 and 29,000 pounds. School buses are about 45 feet long.Washington State School Bus Accident Laws
It should be pointed out that school buses are generally very safe, though accidents do occasionally still happen on them. About four to six school-age children die each year on either school buses or vehicles meant to transport school children. On a percentage basis, this is less than one percent of all traffic deaths, so it is a small percentage.
School buses, obviously, are very obvious vehicles in that they are yellow, have red warning signs that come off them, seats that are protected and good rollover protection features. They are also heavily regulated by state and federal law.
According to 49 U.S.C. 3101, a vehicle is legally defined as being a school bus if the vehicle is going to be used to transport children or if it will be used to an event that is considered school-related. To be protected by law, students must be able to be seated in the school bus, not standing.
When accidents occur on a school bus, children are often hurt. Accidents can occur because of the fault of another driver who runs a red light or stop sign, fails to yield for traffic, or rear-ends a bus because the driver is not paying attention. Alternatively, a child could be harmed on a school bus if the bus driver is negligent in some manner. Common reasons for school bus accidents are:
- Driver fatigue
- Driver inattention
- Driver distraction
- Driver inexperience
According to Washington State law, in order for someone to become a school bus driver in Seattle, Kirkland, Olympia or Washington State, the applicant must have a class A or B commercial driver’s license, have at least five years’ experience as a driver of a car, truck, or SUV, submit a criminal record check that comes back with no offenses, and successfully complete a school bus driver training course.
However, even with all of these requirements, oftentimes a school bus driver either makes a mistake, such as the reasons listed above, or the driver is stuck operating a vehicle that is not safe. Sometimes school departments do not properly maintain their vehicles. Common reasons for school bus crashes can include the following:
- Failure to maintain the brakes
- Tire blowouts
- Failure to maintain the vehicle
- Allowing the bus to be driven in poor weather conditions such as snow, ice, and heavy fog.
All of the reasons are possibilities when it comes to bus accidents. The school district has what is called a non-delegable duty to make sure that the bus does not have any of these issues when it is put on the road. However, accidents still can occur despite the school district knowing that they have an important duty to make sure their buses are safe.
The school district also has a duty to only hire qualified bus drivers. This means the bus drivers they hire must pass the necessary tests in order to become certified by the state. When the bus fails to do any of these things, they can be held liable for the injuries of the person either on the bus or the person on the road who was injured.
Alternatively, if you are on a bus and you are injured by another car, truck, or SUV, then you have the right to make a claim on your own against the driver who hit you. If you choose to go this route, you do not have a legal duty to inform the school district of this. However, if you sue the school district, you are required, under Washington State law, to file a tort claim form.
A tort claim form is just a form that is to be filed with the city or state that spells out the facts of your case and your injuries. You must also wait a specified period of time before you are legally allowed to bring your lawsuit. If you do not follow these very specific steps, your case could be dismissed by the judge, regardless of how serious the case may be or how obvious the fault may be on the part of the driver. These steps must be followed.Common School Bus Injuries to Children
Injuries to children who have been hurt on a school bus can very serious and tragic. If your child has been hurt, then seeing a pedestrian is a great place to start for treatment, so the doctor can then direct the child to receive specialized care if the doctor feels it is appropriate. Common specialists a child can see are a chiropractor, physical therapist, or orthopedic specialist, especially if bones have been broken. Common injuries from school bus injuries are:
- Back aches
- Knee injuries
Given that children are crammed so close together, the potential for injuries can be very high if children collide with one another when the accident occurs. In addition, the chance for injury also increases because many school buses do not have seatbelts or lap-belts for children to wear. Since there is a lack of stability and a restraint mechanism on the bus, the chance for falling off the chair or being jostled around is increased greatly, which in turn increases the chance for neck, shoulder, and back injuries.How The Jackman Law Firm can Help
If your son or daughter has been injured in a school bus accident, you are likely facing phone calls from the school district, the school itself that your child attends, and the school district’s insurance company. In addition, you are likely dealing with doctor’s appointments and trying to get your child the medical care they need. Why go through this process alone? The Jackman Law Firm can help your child recover:
- Money for medical bills
- Money for pain and suffering
- Money for out of pocket expenses
We can help work with the at-fault company’s insurance company to obtain a fair settlement for your child’s injuries. If you have been hit by a school bus, we can also work to make sure that you receive the settlement money you are owed. For children under the age of 18, for cases that are litigated and settled in court, a guardian ad litem has to be appointed by the court.
A guardian ad litem is typically an attorney who will oversee the settlement, meet with you, the parent, and the child, along with the attorney, to make sure the settlement amount is fair given the circumstances.
From there, the settlement money is placed in what is called a blocked account, meaning this is an account that no one can get access to until the child reaches the age of 18, 21, or whatever agreement the parent reaches with the guardian ad litem. In a way, think of the guardian ad litem as the attorney for the child, since a child under the age of 18 cannot speak for themselves in court.
If you have been struck by a school bus and suffered injuries, then two possibilities will emerge. First, either the school bus’s insurance company will offer you a fair settlement for your injuries or they will attempt to argue with you. There may be instances when they even attempt to blame you for the bus accident by alleging that you swerved into the driver’s lane or alleged that you stopped too suddenly in front of the bus.
If the latter is the case you are dealing with, then you need an experienced, assertive law firm to represent you and prove that your version of events is correct. There are a number of tactics The Jackman Law Firm can do to help you. These include sending subpoenas for surveillance footage that may have captured the accident (fortunately, most buses now have cameras installed inside them), interviewing police officers or witnesses who may have been near the accident.
In addition, if the accident was the result of the bus suffering a mechanical failure, such as faulty brakes or a tire blowout, then the Jackman Law Firm can help by sending subpoenas for internal documents to see how often, if at all, the school district was maintaining their bus fleet and if they were strictly complying with state law with respect to their safety of their buses. As you can imagine, many times school bus companies will not voluntarily and willingly do this, and a long battle can ensue from this.
If you have questions about your particular bus accident, feel free to call The Jackman Law Firm for a free consultation to discuss your case.