Most serious child school bus passenger injuries happen during pick-up or drop-off, according to the Kentucky Department of Education and the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety.
“Every day in Kentucky, 9,822 school buses transport more than 385,000 students. Student safety is our biggest concern,” said Elisa Hanley, Pupil Transportation branch manager at KDE. “Taking the time to teach our students and community about bus safety procedures is one of our highest priorities because our goal is for each student to get to school and home safely – not just at the start of school, but every day.” Kentucky law requires motorists to slow down when a bus driver turns on flashing yellow lights. When flashing red lights come on, drivers behind the school bus must stop.
On two-lane and four-lane undivided roads, or multi-lane roads with a turn lane, traffic in both directions must stop.
In criminal or traffic court, stop-arm violations and other such infractions are always completely the fault of the driver or other violator. If the bus driver was partially at fault, perhaps because s/he stopped suddenly and unexpectedly, the judge might reduce the punishment, but that’s it. However, in civil court, things are different, because of the comparative fault defense.
Comparative fault is perhaps the most common insurance company defense in all kinds of negligence cases. This doctrine basically shifts blame for an injury from the tortfeasor (negligent party) to the victim (innocent party).
The defendant, which is usually an insurance company, has the burden of proof and the burden of persuasion.
First, the defendant must convince the judge the defense applies. That’s the burden of proof. Speeding is a good example. If Ed was speeding 1mph over the limit when Ralph hit him, Ed’s excessive speed probably didn’t meaningfully contribute to the wreck. If Trixie was speeding 15mph over the limit when Alice hit her, her excessive speed probably contributed to the wreck.
Next, the defendant must convince all twelve jurors the defense not only applied, but also had a game-changing effect. That’s the burden of persuasion.
Finally, based on the evidence, and only the evidence presented, jurors divide responsibility on a percentage basis, such as 50-50 or 80-20.
In many jurisdictions, the victim gets nothing unless the tortfeasor was at least 50 or 51 percent at fault. But Kentucky is a pure comparative fault state. So, even if the tortfeasor was only 1 percent responsible for the wreck, s/he must pay the victim a proportionate share of damages.
The comparative fault defense could come up in both vehicle collision claims, which are discussed below, and passenger safety claims, which are discussed now. Falls and third-party assaults are the most common passenger safety claims.
Bus drivers, as well as Uber drivers and other commercial operators, have a legal responsibility to pick up and drop off passengers in safe, secure locations. Convenient locations aren’t always safe and secure. Falls are also common on buses. The aisles often aren’t very clean and there are other fall hazards.
Assaults often occur because two passengers, who have often been drinking, get into heated arguments which become violent. The bus driver, or another bus company employee, has a legal duty to provide adequate security. That usually means breaking up such fights before someone gets hurt.
Comparative fault in a fall case basically blames the victim for not watching where s/he was going. As for assaults, these incidents often involve provocation.
In this area, the best defense is usually a good offense. A Lexington personal injury attorney often refutes the comparative fault defense by focusing on the driver’s negligence. This negligence usually involves:
- Aggressive Driving: Not many bus drivers speed. However, other forms of aggressive driving, like tailgating and making an unsafe lane change, are more common. On a related note, many bus drivers don’t perform pre-departure inspections. The duty of care doesn’t require buses to undergo state inspections every time they leave the garage. But the duty of care does require drivers or mechanics to visually inspect each bus and take appropriate action.
- Impaired Driving: Fatigue, distraction, and substance abuse are the most common impaired operator issues among bus drivers. Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning and late at night, and most bus drivers are behind the wheel at these hours. School buses often have chaperones to watch the kids, so drivers can focus on driving. Municipal and intercity buses rarely have chaperones, so the driver must multitask. Substance abuse and fatigue are related. Many commercial drivers use amphetamines to counteract the effects of fatigue.
Compensation in a passenger safety or vehicle collision claim usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Virtual, home, and hospital visits are available.