The Times Free Press in Tennessee reports the first lawsuit (of what will likely be many) was filed in connection with an elementary school bus accident that killed five students and injured dozens more. The driver is facing criminal charges, and there is speculation his actions were intentional.The civil lawsuit, filed by an 8-year-old passenger and his mother, names as defendants the driver and the driver’s private contractor employer. The school district is not named as a defendant. school bus

Plaintiff alleges defendant driver was operating the vehicle in a negligent and careless fashion, causing the collision that resulted in plaintiff’s injuries. The driver’s employer is vicariously liable based on the legal doctrine of respondeat superior (Latin for, “Let the master answer”). The lawsuit further alleges direct liability by the bus contractor for failure to ensure proper policies and procedures were in place that would make sure drivers were appropriately trained, supervised, investigated and disciplined.

The boy reportedly suffered serious injuries that may be permanent and will result in considerable medical and other expenses both now and in the future, according to the complaint. He has also reportedly suffered great emotional and mental trauma, and the lawsuit seeks damages for this, as well as physical pain and suffering. The lawsuit requests that a jury decide the amount the boy and his family should be awarded. 

Authorities have said the driver, a 24-year-old with a previous record of traffic violations, was not on the designated school bus route that morning when he was speeding, lost control of the bus and swerved off the two-lane road, slamming into an elevated driveway and a mailbox. He then over-corrected and swerved to the left, striking a telephone pole and a large tree. Emergency officials spent two hours removing all the children who were trapped inside the bus.

The driver was arrested and has been charged with five counts of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment. Authorities have clarified the driver was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash.

Two months earlier, this same driver crashed another bus, but was not cited by police in that incident. The collision was supposed to have been reported to the transportation manager of the school district, per the board’s policy. However, it appears that was not done.

The company that employed the driver has 13,700 school buses that it operates nationwide. It employs about that many drivers too. Although the company has a “satisfactory” rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, it has tallied 346 bus accidents in the last two years.

Bus accidents tend to make headlines, but they aren’t nearly as common as car accidents or truck accidents. School buses in particular are known to be relatively safe. But that can make it tough for a plaintiff to find an injury lawyer knowledgeable enough to take on the claim. In many cases, these matters are complicated by the fact that school districts, as government agencies, are protected under sovereign immunity statutes. That makes it difficult (but not impossible) to hold them liable. Private companies, of course, are generally not immune. However, any time there are numerous plaintiffs filing a substantially similar claim against the same defendant for the same incident, it can significantly lower the amount of compensation available from insurers. Having an experienced lawyer to advocate on your behalf is the best way to ensure your rights and interests are protected.

If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.

Additional Resources:

First lawsuit filed in connection with Monday’s fatal bus crash, Nov. 23, 2016, By Kendi A. Rainwater, Times Free Press

More Blog Entries:

Report: MD Bus Driver in Fatal Crash Took Seizure Medication, Nov. 19, 2016, Miami Bus Accident Lawyer Blog