Are Maryland School Bus Drivers Legally Responsible for Students’ Safety?

As a general rule, the law imposes a duty on all motorists to drive in a safe, reasonable, and law-abiding manner. When a motorist violates this duty, and injures someone as a result, the accident victim can often pursue a claim for compensation. Bus drivers are no exception, and when a student is injured in a Maryland school bus accident, parents may have a claim against the driver or their employer.

Bus drivers, however, are often employed by the school district, making them government employees. Because of this, Maryland school bus accident cases are often brought against the government, and implicate the Maryland Tort Claims Act (MTCA). Unlike other states’ tort claims acts, the MTCA broadly waives government immunity, allowing injury victims to pursue a broad range of claims against government entities. However, claims under the MTCA are subject to strict procedural requirements and also to a damages cap. As of October 2015, recovery in an MTCA claim is limited to $400,000 per accident victim and a total of $800,000 per accident.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a tragic bus accident that resulted in the student’s death. According to the court’s opinion, the bus driver stopped the bus across the street from the student’s home. The driver turned on the vehicle’s flashing lights, and lowered the “stop” arm and crossing gate. The student exited the bus as the bus driver told him, “see you tomorrow.”

The student then crossed in front of the bus, towards his mother, who was waiting in front of their home. As the student stepped across the double-yellow line, the bus driver noticed an oncoming truck. The driver honked the horn to warn the student, but it was too late. The bus struck and killed the student.

The student’s family (“the plaintiffs”) brought a personal injury lawsuit against the bus driver. The plaintiffs pointed to a school district regulation stating that students should not be allowed to leave the bus until all traffic has stopped.

The bus driver claimed that she was entitled to immunity under state law because her decision was discretionary and did not exhibit any malice or ill-will towards the student. The court agreed, determining that the plaintiffs’ claim against the bus driver should be dismissed.

Importantly, in Maryland, the plaintiffs’ claim would not likely have been dismissed because the MTCA generally allows for claims against government entities. Instead, if the court determined that the MTCA applied, the plaintiffs would need to comply with additional notice requirements and their claim would be limited to $400,000. Of course, if possible, it is preferable to bring a case outside the MTCA, because more significant damages may be available.

Has Your Child Been Injured in a Maryland School Bus Accident?

If your child has recently been the victim of a bus driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, our skillful team of injury advocates represents clients in all types of motor vehicle claims, including Maryland school bus accidents. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call 410-654-3600 today.

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