Texas School Bus Accidents and Laws

Texas School Bus Accidents and Laws

Should I worry about my child being in a school bus accident?

Your child is probably what you treasure most in the world, and you would never do anything to put them in danger. We worry about every aspect of our children’s lives, but we can’t protect them from every possibility. Having them ride a school bus can seem like a terrifying prospect—a big vehicle, full of children, at the whim of the bus driver and drivers around it. How could you not worry? Luckily, school bus accidents are relatively rare. But they do happen—more often than we might think. While the injuries are often minor, there are some instances where they have been much more serious and even fatal. If your child is the victim of a school bus accident, the recourse can be exceptionally complicated due to the various parties involved. But you don’t need to go through the process alone! An experienced bus accident attorney can help you get the compensation you and your family deserve.

How often do school bus accidents happen in Texas?

The Texas Education Agency maintains the Bus Accident Reporting System (BARS). BARS conducts an annual survey on school bus accidents, which must be submitted by all school districts and charter schools, even if there were no accidents that year. However, BARS only requires that accidents involving citations be reported; in all other instances, the school district or charter school has discretion. Therefore, minor accidents that don’t involve a citation might be more common than we think! Recently, data collected from 781 school districts reported that there were over 2,200 bus accidents during the school year. These accidents resulted in over 200 injuries—mostly students and some bus drivers. While the majority of the injuries were “minor,” there have been major injuries and even fatalities. It’s no surprise that the majority of these injuries happened to students riding in buses with no seatbelts!

Are school buses required to have seatbelts?

The short answer is no, school buses are not required to have seatbelts. Texas Education Code §34 governs the rules for transportation and school buses. Sec. 34.013 says that students are required to wear seat belts if and when a bus is equipped with them. If you dig a little deeper, you find in Sec. 547.701(e) that seat belts are required in school buses, but there are so many exceptions included that the requirement ends up pretty meaningless. This section also says that buses purchased by the school district before 2017 don’t have to have seatbelts, and buses made after 2018 don’t have to have seatbelts if the district’s budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of a bus equipped with seat belts! Basically, riding a bus with no seat belts greatly increases the risk of injury, and there’s no real requirement for buses to have seat belts.

What are the most common school bus accidents, and how serious are they?

In addition to injuries caused by buses that don’t have seatbelts, many school bus accidents involve another vehicle at a bus stop. As a result, Texas has enacted pretty strict rules that drivers must obey when they are around school buses. Texas Transportation Code § 545.066 requires that vehicles approaching a school bus from either direction must stop and wait until the bus resumes driving, and any driver violating the statute can be charged with a misdemeanor to a felony. Even a misdemeanor ticket can cost upwards of $1,250. However, just because rules prohibit passing a bus, this doesn’t mean that drivers follow them. Every year, Texas Highway Patrol Troopers issue over a thousand citations and hundreds of warnings. Most school bus accidents are reported as “minor” and don’t require hospitalization. Unfortunately, school bus accidents can also be a lot more serious. In one year, multiple students in Texas were killed in school bus accidents. One student was killed after getting off the bus and walking home. Another was killed when the bus was hit by a train, and another when their bus rolled into a ditch and caught fire. Even more recently, an accident made the news when a school bus overturned and students went flying since there were no seat belts in the bus! Clearly, many different factors determine who is at fault for an accident. Your claim can get complicated quickly. Always enlist the help of an auto accident lawyer who can guide you through the process and help you seek justice.

What are the risks to children riding school buses?

  • Being hit by a vehicle at a bus stop, when either walking to get to the bus stop, or getting on or off a bus. While drivers are supposed to stop for school buses, they violate the rules all the time and don’t heed the bus stop rules.
  • Being hit by a bus while at the bus stop, especially if they are out of view of the driver.
  • Poorly trained school bus drivers who are not qualified or properly prepared to drive a bus.
  • Negligent bus drivers who break the rules by speeding, texting on their phone, running red lights, etc.
  • Collisions with other vehicles (either a car hits the bus or vice versa). In one instance, a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle hit both another car and a bus!
  • Tripping or falling inside the bus. Because seatbelts are not always required to be installed on buses, kids can easily fall out of their seats if a bus driver applies the brakes too quickly.
  • Poor road conditions. Buses are large vehicles, prone to accidents caused by driving negligently in bad weather and road conditions.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists crossing paths with a bus. Other people can be injured by school buses too! Pedestrians and cyclists are often innocent victims of careless bus drivers.

If my child is involved in a school bus accident, who is at fault?

There are numerous parties that could potentially be responsible for your child’s injuries: the driver of a vehicle if it struck your child or the bus, the school bus driver, a third-party company (the bus manufacturer if there was a defect in the bus, a construction company causing a road obstruction, etc), the school district if they knew the driver they hired had a negligent driving record, and the list goes on. Figuring out who may be at fault is only the first step. An experienced school bus accident attorney can help you find out if multiple parties could be held responsible for the damages caused. Your lawyer can also help you wade through the restrictions that exist when trying to sue a governmental entity like a public school. Your school bus accident attorney will also help you investigate what happened and determine whom you might hold liable, including.
  • The school bus driver: If your driver caused the crash and your child was injured, you can usually sue them. However, most school bus drivers don’t make a lot of money, and probably cannot pay for the medical costs associated with the injuries your child sustained. However, since the driver was working when the accident happened, you can sue their employer!
  • The school bus company: If your child was injured while riding on a bus driven by an employee of a transportation company, that company will be responsible for injuries that happened while their employee was working within the scope of their duties.
  • The school/school district: Whether the driver is hired directly by the school or school district, or even if the school or school district hires the transportation company, it can also be held responsible for the driver’s negligence. Now, it is extremely important to have a qualified school bus accident lawyer to help you through this process, because most lawsuits for negligence are not allowed to be filed against the government (including schools and school districts) in Texas. However, there is a big exception that a lawyer can help guide you through: if a government employee (including a school bus driver) committed negligence while performing their duties leading to an auto accident, and that negligence led to injuries that the victim wouldn’t normally sue the government for, they can still hold the school liable for their employee’s negligence.
  • Another driver: If your child was injured by another driver while getting on or off the bus, you can sue the driver. You can also sue the driver if they hit the bus directly and caused injuries. In these instances, the driver will be responsible for the costs of injuries and other damages. Usually, their insurance company will cover these costs. Again, it is vital to have an experienced school bus accident attorney to help you recover the maximum amount possible from the insurance company. Additionally, it’s important to gather all the evidence of the driver breaking any traffic regulations: not stopping for the bus, using their cell phone, etc. This evidence will help you build your case against them.
  • Another driver’s employer: If the driver was operating a commercial vehicle, you can usually sue their employer too.
  • The bus manufacturer or maintenance company: If you can prove that one of these companies violated a duty of care and that the injuries resulted from that violation, you can hold these companies responsible too. This might be the case if the bus was not properly maintained, or if there was a manufacturing defect leading to the accident.

What injuries and damages are involved in a school bus accident?

You can sue for the damages resulting from the crash. In most car accidents, you can claim damages for injuries, medical bills, and lost wages. Because the victims are most often kids, they usually can’t claim this last category. However, if the injuries are severe enough to result in permanent disability, your child could claim lost future wages and the costs of lifelong care. You can also claim damages for things like emotional distress and other harms. A lawyer will help walk you through how to calculate the damages that may be available in your case.

Can Texas Personal Injury Protection Insurance cover injuries sustained in a school bus accident?

Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage pays for medical bills. It covers you, your passenger, and every member of your household - even if they were injured in another vehicle (including a school bus). While it is not required in Texas, all auto policies include it. If you don’t want PIP coverage, you have to opt out by contacting the company in writing. PIP will cover the costs of an accident, up to the limits of your policy coverage, no matter who is at fault. Thus, this is no-fault insurance and can be an option for monetary recovery because you don’t have to prove who did what wrong.

Can I get double recovery using Texas PIP?

In most cases, if one insurer (say, the driver’s insurance) pays for the costs of medical bills and your insurance has also made a payment, the first insurer can demand reimbursement for what it paid out. But, PIP is not subject to this process! So, you can collect payment from your PIP insurance and the defendant’s insurance. A school bus injury attorney can help walk you through the process of filing claims.

Does PIP still apply even if the accident happened outside the bus?

In most cases, courts have interpreted PIP coverage to include injuries that arise out of the use of the vehicle, even if they don’t involve a collision between vehicles. Because your child is using the school bus, PIP insurance will apply even if they are crossing the road before or after getting on the bus.

School bus accident cases are complex—it’s normal to need help!

School bus accidents can be complex. Potential issues in a bus crash include:
  • Negligence of the school bus driver
  • Negligence of another driver
  • Violation of seat belt requirement statutes
  • Violation of driving regulations in the presence of a school bus
  • Determination of which parties might be held liable
  • Multiple injured parties
  • Which insurance claims to make, and how they might affect each other
An experienced accident injury attorney can help you navigate the process of claiming damages for your child following a school bus accident.