School buses are widely considered to be the safest means of transportation to get children back and forth from school every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, children are 50 times more likely to arrive at school alive if they ride the bus rather than drive themselves or carpool with others.
However, a recent string of school bus crashes in the Atlanta area should serve as a reminder that no mode of transportation is entirely free of risk.
The first bus accident happened on April 30, when a school bus crashed into a building in southwest Atlanta. Thankfully, no children were on board at the time, according to WXIA-TV.
Six days later, another school bus – this time carrying children – crashed into a car on an I-20 exit ramp. Three children were sent to the hospital to be checked for injuries in that school bus accident, and police charged the driver with failure to maintain a lane, Fox 5 News reported.
A Closer Look at School Bus Crashes
Like any other motor vehicle accident, school bus crashes may happen for a variety of reasons.
A bus may be struck by an irresponsible driver who was speeding, drunk or otherwise distracted. In other instances, a school bus driver may be the one at fault due to a lack of training, carelessness or a reckless disregard for the safety of his or her passengers. School bus accidents may also be caused by a defective vehicle part or due to a lack of proper maintenance.
Parents should be aware of the legal options available to them if their child suffers injuries in a motor vehicle crash, including one that involves a school bus.
For instance, an injured party may be entitled to compensation if negligence can be established, and if there is some form of applicable insurance coverage.
In any negligence claim, the first thing that must be proven is that the responsible party had a legal obligation, or “duty of care,” to protect others from all foreseeable harm. Children are owed an even higher duty of care under the law, especially on a common carrier such as a school bus.
If it can be shown that the duty was owed, breached, and that the breach directly contributed to the child’s injuries, then negligence may be established.
While the school district and driver may be protected by governmental or sovereign immunity, there may be ways of obtaining compensation if the facts support a claim. There are several potential sources of payment in school bus accident cases. Depending on the circumstances of the case:
- The school bus company or school district may have applicable insurance
- An at-fault driver who causes a wreck may have coverage
- The parents’ insurance policy may provide coverage.
Under Georgia law, there are always two potential claims when a child is injured. First, parents always have a claim for any medical expenses that are incurred to treat the child’s injuries. Second, the child has a claim for any injuries as well as a claim for any pain, suffering and loss of future income after age 18. If there are permanent injuries or disabilities, the child is entitled to fair compensation for those injuries.
Georgia has very stringent provisions in place to protect settlements made on behalf of minors until they reach 18. The goal is to prevent those funds from being wasted or misused. The applicable provisions are determined by the size of any settlement. Court approval and supervision is required for any settlement of a child’s claim greater than $15,000.00
Children’s claims are further complicated by the issue of which entity may have paid for the child’s medical expenses and the subrogation rights they may have. To properly protect a child’s interests, parents need to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney familiar with the complex issues which can arise in pursuing and settling such claims.
In conclusion, parents have every right to trust that when their children ride the school bus, they will arrive to their destination safe and sound. However, if that trust is broken, parents have a right to take action.