Articles Posted in School Bus Accidents

Almost everyone learns about the dangers of rear-end accidents while learning to drive. Following another vehicle too closely while driving can lead quickly to a crash if the front vehicle has to brake or slow down for any reason. Depending on the speed of the vehicles, these rear-ending accidents can be serious, perhaps even fatal, or nothing more than a “fender-bender.” When the accidents involve a bus or truck—very large vehicles—the damage might be worse due to their size or the number of people on board. In fact, Maryland rear-end accidents involving buses or trucks can, and often do, lead to serious harm.

For example, take a recent school bus accident. According to a local news article, two school buses were involved in a crash late last month, leaving seven students with injuries. Two of the students were even sent to the hospital. The crash occurred when one of the buses rear-ended the other at a stop sign. The incident is still under investigation, and it is not clear exactly how many students were on the buses, but the crash is an example of the risk rear-ending bus or truck accidents pose to Maryland drivers.

However, despite their risks, these types of accidents can actually be one of the easiest to recover from financially. Almost all Maryland bus and truck accidents happen in an instant, out of nowhere, and many of them leave those impacted confused about what exactly happened. Individuals often report afterward that the whole thing is a blur—one moment everything was fine and the next moment there had been an accident. The lack of clarity around what happened in these accidents also leads to a lack of clarity about who was at fault, which is often the first thing most people want to know. This can make it difficult for those injured in the accidents to recover financially in a personal injury lawsuit because they do not know who to bring suit against. However, with rear-end accidents, there may be more clarity. Basic rules of the road dictate that drivers should not follow too closely behind other vehicles, in case they suddenly brake or slow down.

School bus crashes killed 109 people throughout the country in 2019, according to the National Safety Council, based on data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA defines a school bus-related crash as any crash that involves a school bus, or another vehicle functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities. Most of the fatalities occurred between 7 and 7:59 a.m. and 3 and 3:59 p.m. There are additional crashes that result in non-fatal injuries. Several months ago one student was injured in a Carroll County school bus crash.

Most states, including Maryland, do not currently require seat belts on large school buses. Only eight states—New York, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Nevada, and California—require them. The NHTSA requires seat belts for smaller school buses but until recently, had not provided a recommendation for larger buses. The agency has contended that children are protected by the school bus’s design in a crash. In 2018, the agency recommended that all new large school buses be equipped with both lap and shoulder seat belts. Other states have introduced legislation seeking to make seat belts mandatory. Some states have been dissuaded from requiring seat belts because of the high cost of doing so.

If there is a school bus involved in a Maryland traffic accident, there may be additional barriers to suing a school bus driver or the school district. Claims made against a public school district require that the claimant first provide notice of the claim to the municipality or the state, depending on the case, within a certain time period after the injury. The notice must advise the defendant of the facts serving as the basis for the complaint and the specific damages alleged. In addition, a school district may raise the defense of immunity. Immunity limits the ability of people to sue state and local governments in court. Generally, Maryland law protects school districts and their employees from being sued unless they are carrying out certain duties.

All Maryland vehicles are required to have insurance to protect drivers when they are involved in an accident. Despite this requirement, many Maryland drivers may find themselves in a sticky situation one day when they are hit by uninsured motorists. In fact, many drivers are surprised to find out how that many others are driving on the roads without insurance. That is where uninsured motorist coverage comes in, also commonly referred to as UIM coverage or insurance. This type of insurance protects those who get into Maryland truck or bus crashes with drivers without insurance to cover the damage.

Sometimes, getting UIM insurance to cover an accident is straightforward, and car insurance companies cooperate. But other times, the situation can be more complicated. For example, in some situations the insurance company might deny coverage, claiming that the policy does not apply to the accident in question for some reason. In these cases, an injured motorist may need to file a civil lawsuit against their insurance company to get the coverage they are entitled to. Of course, these lawsuits can be complicated, especially when going up against insurance companies’ large legal teams.

In other cases, there may be instances of insurance fraud. For instance, recently a bus accident led to charges of insurance fraud when a school bus transportation company presented fraudulent and falsified insurance cards. An investigation into the company found multiple instances of fraudulent insurance cards and led to the arrest of two people involved. While more details are still unraveling about this specific case, the case highlights the problem of insurance fraud which may complicate and prolong a Maryland driver’s recovery after an accident with an uninsured motorist.

In this blog, we focus a lot on Maryland truck and bus accidents caused by semi-trucks driving on Maryland highways. Anyone who has driven on a highway in the state has probably seen multiple trucks driving alongside them, and the trucks’ size makes them particularly susceptible to involvement in accidents. However, a more seemingly innocuous vehicle might be dangerous to Maryland drivers and passengers: the school bus.

While admittedly less common than accidents involving semi-trucks, school bus crashes can be incredibly dangerous, especially considering the number of children often on board. Like other vehicles, school buses are driven by people, and are on the road with other vehicles. The same factors that could cause another accident—distracted driving, failure to follow traffic signs, running a red light, etc.—can also cause a school bus accident.

For example, take a crash that occurred just this month. According to a local news report, the school bus driver, a 42-year-old man, was driving around 23 students to school one morning when the accident occurred around 7:30 in the morning. The school bus ran off the road and crashed into a tree, based on a preliminary report, however, the crash is still under investigation. Of the 23 or so students on board, six suffered injuries and were transported to receive treatment. The driver of the bus was not injured.

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) allows private individuals to file suit against the federal government and its agencies for certain torts committed by persons acting on behalf of the United States. However, the FTCA provides only a limited right and exempts certain claims. For example, the FTCA exempts a number of intentional torts as well as claims based on the performance or failure to perform a “discretionary function or duty.” This means that if a Maryland truck accident case involving a federal employee or entity is based on a discretionary function or duty (the discretionary-function exception), the case will be dismissed.

Whether a claim is based on a discretionary function or duty is the subject of much litigation. Courts have held that the conduct cannot be considered discretionary if there is a directive that an employee has no choice but to follow. If the conduct does involve an element of discretion, courts must also consider whether the discretion is actually or potentially affected by legitimate policy-related decisions. If the conduct is discretionary and is affected by legitimate policy-related decisions, the exception applies, and the government is immune from suit. If the federal government claims that it is immune from suit under the FTCA, the government has the burden to prove that an exception applies.

In a recent FTCA claim before a federal appeals court, the court considered a truck accident case involving an individual who was delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service. In that case, the individual working for a contractor that was delivering mail for the Postal Service rear-ended a school bus, leaving two students severely injured. The plaintiff sued the Postal Service under the Federal Tort Claims Act, alleging that it was negligent for failing to inspect the contractor’s vehicles. The Postal Service argued that the case should be dismissed under the discretionary function exception.

Every day, millions of students ride to and from school on school buses. While school buses are generally a safe option for children to get to school, they are not immune from getting into accidents. School buses, including those in Maryland, get into crashes on occasion, which can cause injuries to those on board. Those injured may be able to collect financially from the driver responsible for the accident. However, doing so often requires that the injury victim file a claim with the school district’s insurance company.

Generally, Maryland school buses all have some sort of insurance policy to protect them in case of an accident. This insurance likely includes what is called Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage, or UIM. This coverage protects those who are hit by a negligent driver who does not have enough to financially cover the accident. For instance, if someone is riding in a school bus driven by driver A when driver B, in their car, hits the school bus, driver B may be liable to driver A and the passengers for their injuries. Let’s say these injuries total $300,000. Driver B might only have insurance coverage of up to $100,000, leaving them $200,000 short. Or, in some cases, driver B might not have insurance at all. In this instance, a plaintiff may want to try and recover against the school bus’s insurance provider using the UIM coverage provision of the policy. If the school bus has UIM coverage of up to $500,000, they may be able to pay what the responsible driver was unable to.

If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Maryland insurance laws can be difficult to understand, and insurance companies routinely reject claims for coverage in an attempt to limit their financial responsibility, meaning that cases like this may end up in court. For example, a state appeals court recently considered a case with a very similar fact pattern to the example laid out above. The victim was injured when a car hit the school bus she was driving in, but the car’s driver did not have enough to cover her injuries. The victim attempted to recover from the school bus’s insurance provider under their UIM coverage provision, but the insurance company refused to pay, insisting that the coverage was limited by statute, even though the contract said otherwise. The case had to go to court multiple times for the plaintiff to finally receive the compensation she deserved for her injuries.

Over 450,000 school buses transport about 25 million children to and from school every weekday in the United States. While the majority of these trips happen without any issues or injuries, school buses are unfortunately susceptible to involvement in car and truck accidents just as all other vehicles are. For example, shocking footage of a tragic accident in Columbus, Ohio was recently released, showing a catastrophic crash from the inside of a school bus. The crash occurred in December 2019, when a person driving on the road ran a red light and hit the bus, causing it to veer off of the road and flip on its side. The children and the two drivers did sustain injuries, but fortunately, no one was killed in the crash. Maryland school bus accidents are unfortunately far too common.

School bus accidents demonstrate that drivers aren’t the only ones at risk when someone behaves recklessly on the road. Maryland car and truck accidents can have a significant and catastrophic impact on both drivers and their passengers, such as children riding to and from school on a school bus. According to recent statistics compiled by the National Safety Council, school bus crashes killed 117 people nationwide in 2018 and injured many more. These crashes can also seriously injure pedestrians and drivers and passengers in other vehicles, particularly due to school buses’ size.

Some may think that because many of the victims of these accidents are often underage school children that there may not be litigation in the aftermath. But that is not actually the case. While young children cannot feasibly bring a suit themselves, suits are frequently brought on their behalf in both state and federal court, seeking damages for their injuries from the party responsible for the accident. Oftentimes these suits are brought by the injured child’s parents, who have been financially burdened by their child’s medical bills and are seeking compensation. Parents and/or the family’s estate may also bring wrongful death suits in the tragic case that a child is killed in an accident, where they may recover for pain and suffering, burial and funeral costs, and more. Family members considering bringing such a suit are advised to consult with a Maryland personal injury attorney to maximize their chances of successfully navigating an oftentimes difficult area of the law.

Under Maryland law, trucks and other motor vehicles are required to carry a certain amount of liability coverage under their insurance policies. The state of Maryland regulates insurance policies, including uninsured motorist policies. Under the Maryland Insurance Code, uninsured motorists are defined as motor vehicles of which the “ownership, maintenance, or use” has resulted in the injury or death of an insured, and for which the liability limits for the injuries are less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute, or the limits have been reduced by other payments to an amount less than the amount of coverage provided under the statute. In Maryland truck accidents involving uninsured motorists, who may not carry sufficient coverage, can make recovery more difficult for accident victims.

In one recent case, the Supreme Court of Virginia considered whether an uninsured motorist provision covered the injuries of a special needs child who was injured on a school bus. In that case, the child, who was 10 years old, had autism and was not able to speak. The bus driver and an aide allegedly kicked, choked, and elbowed another student on the bus, and hit the plaintiff more than once during the incident. Both students were restrained by special needs harnesses. The plaintiff requested a determination by the court that the uninsured motorist provision in the policy provided coverage for his injuries. The bus’s insurance policy contained an uninsured motorist provision, which covered the insured’s damages for bodily injuries that arose out of the “ownership, maintenance, or use” of the uninsured motor vehicle.

The issue before the court was whether the injuries arose out of the use of the school bus as a means of transportation. The court found there was no causal connection between the boy’s injuries and the use of the school bus as a means of transportation. The court found that because the alleged conduct was criminal, it was not a foreseeable risk of transporting a child to school, and was not within the bus’s policy.

When a school bus is involved in a Maryland bus accident, plaintiffs need to deal with the additional complication of navigating governmental immunity. In injury claims filed against a public school district, plaintiffs have special considerations.

First, a claimant normally must provide timely notice to the state or municipality, advising the entity of the claim. The Maryland Tort Claims Act generally requires that a claimant first submit a written claim to the Treasurer within one year of the injury. The notice needs to comply with the requirements provided in the Act, which include a statement of facts and specific damages. The Treasurer then has the opportunity to grant or deny the claim. If the Treasurer denies the claim, the plaintiff can file the case in court. A claim generally also needs to be filed within three years of the accident, although this can be extended in certain, limited circumstances.

Second, immunity is often raised as a defense in claims against governmental entities or employees. The doctrine of immunity limits the ability of plaintiffs to proceed with claims against state and local governments in some cases. Immunity normally must be waived in order for the claim to go forward—which usually happens through a statute. In cases against local government entities, such as school districts, Maryland law protects them from suit as long as the entities are carrying out certain duties. Immunity normally functions to protect government employees, as long as they are acting in their official capacity, and the employee’s actions are carried out without malice or gross negligence.

More than 800 students are killed each year going to and from school, according to the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences. In addition to citations and fines, illegally passing a school bus could result in a crash with students walking to or from the bus. If a student is injured in a Maryland truck accident, a driver may be held responsible through a Maryland personal injury claim.

Under section 21-706 of the Maryland Code, if a school vehicle is flashing red lights, a driver must stop for a school vehicle at least 20 feet from the rear of the front of the vehicle. A driver cannot proceed until the school vehicle continues moving or deactivates the flashing red lights. According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, the greatest danger to students taking the bus is when approaching or leaving the bus. The stop sign on a Maryland school bus will show yellow flashing lights to indicate that the bus is preparing to load or unload children. Motorists are supposed to slow down and prepare to stop. The stop sign will show red flashing lights and the extended stop arm to indicate that the bus has stopped and that children are getting on or off. Motorists are required to stop until the flashing lights stop, regardless of which direction they are coming from and irrespective of how many travel lanes there are.

In the first 40 days of the 2017-2018 school year, 7,919 drivers in Montgomery County, Maryland, were recorded on school bus cameras illegally passing school buses. The Montgomery County Public School District has stated that it reports nearly 800 to 1,200 illegal passes in a single day. A school bus camera citation comes with a $250 fine. If a police officer issues a citation for the same offense, the fine is $500.

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