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Is the School System or Driver Liable in a School Bus Crash?

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Most school bus travel is safe. Nonetheless, no one can control other drivers or road conditions, and crashes and collisions will happen. When they do, it is a nightmare for families and students. Even relatively minor injuries in an auto accident can result in high medical bills and lasting psychological trauma for a child.

After a Georgia school bus accident, who would be liable to pay damages to injured bus riders and their families? The answers depend on many factors surrounding the accident—who was driving, how the crash happened, and even what kind of school the bus belonged to. And, unfortunately, it is possible that children in some circumstances could have a difficult time recovering the damages they need. But an experienced Georgia accident attorney knows how to seek recovery.

Recovery from a Bus Accident—Public Schools vs. Private Concerns

The first major question is whether the bus belonged to a public school, a private school, or a private company contracted by the school. Public school districts are part of the government, and the rules for making claims against the government for personal injuries differ from those between private parties. As state agencies, schools have what is called “sovereign immunity,” which means that they are immune from lawsuits unless there are specific exceptions written into the law.

Thankfully, there is just such an exception to allow claims for school bus accidents. A school district can be sued “for a loss arising out of claims for the negligent use of a covered motor vehicle,” which includes buses. See O.C.G.A. § 36-92-2. The law also sets out specific limits for monetary claims:

  • “$500,000.00 because of bodily injury or death of any one person in any one occurrence”
  • “an aggregate amount of $700,000.00 because of bodily injury or death of two or more persons in any one occurrence”
  • “$50,000.00 because of injury to or destruction of property in any one occurrence”

O.C.G.A. § 36-92-2(a)(3). The school district may also carry higher insurance limits than this and waive immunity to the limits of that insurance.

The law permits students to make claims resulting from collisions during bus operations or during the process of loading and unloading the students. When a school bus driver causes an accident through negligence in the course of their job, the school district may be held liable.

An accident involving a private school bus or a private charter bus may operate according to the rules of most personal injury claims. However, some private schools and entities receive government funding and may have limited sovereign immunity, affecting the rules for filing claims. This is a complex area of law; an attorney will need to review the situation.

An injured student typically has less time to file a claim against a public school than against a private school. For a claim against a Georgia public school, they may have only six months or a year to file. In the case of a private bus accident, however, they can have up to two years.

Bus Accidents and Their Aftermath

School bus accidents can happen for all the reasons that collisions usually do, including:

  • Negligent or reckless behavior by other road users
  • Negligent driving by the bus driver
  • Reckless or intentional behavior by the bus driver
  • Poor vehicle maintenance
  • Defective auto parts

The causes of an accident can be simple. For example, if a careless driver ran a stop sign and hit a school bus, that driver would be liable. But in many accidents, the causes are complicated. If a bus was poorly maintained, reducing its ability to maneuver, and then they were hit by a reckless driver, who was ultimately responsible? This is a question of fault to be investigated and negotiated over in settlements or debated at trial.

But in that accident, there are parties who would definitely not be at fault—the children and supporting adults riding on the bus. For the families of those on board, there is only one immediate concern: who will help us help them recover?

Bus accidents can lead to abrasions, lacerations, broken bones, and hidden internal injuries such as whiplash. More severe injuries include TBIs—including concussions—and spinal injuries. A bus accident can also traumatize young riders, leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that requires therapy to overcome.

If you or a loved one have been involved in a school bus accident, it is crucial to speak to a Georgia personal injury attorney as soon as possible. There is no need to rely on what a school employee says about how it happened and whether or not you can recover. An attorney will understand how to analyze the accident, determine who may be liable, and file the appropriate claims while protecting you and your family from pressure to settle or withdraw your demands.

A family may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Medical expenses, including travel for treatments
  • Home care expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • The child’s loss of future income, in case of permanent disability

At The Scott Pryor Law Group, we represent many types of personal injury clients, particularly those who have suffered auto accidents or catastrophic injuries. We want to talk to you and your child about your experience. What’s more, you won’t have to pay us until we win your case or reach a settlement in your favor. Call us today at (404) 474-7122 to schedule an appointment with us in our Gwinnett County offices.

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