Articles Posted in School Bus Accidents

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.

Every parent is nervous the first time they send their child to school on the school bus. School buses are generally known to be safe for students. However, accidents can happen while students are on the bus, but also while they are approaching the bus. In fact, students are most at risk of being involved in a Maryland bus accident when they are getting on or off a school bus.

These days, all school buses are equipped with additional safety features such as swinging gate arms or deployable stop signs that bus drivers can use to warn other motorists that students will be getting on or off the bus. Of course, these signals are not recommendations, and drivers must not pass a stopped school bus, or drive around a lowered gate arm. However, whether it be because they are in a rush or because they are not paying attention, too many drivers ignore school bus drivers’ signals and try to navigate around buses as they drop off or pick up students, putting children at great risk.

In most situations when a child is struck while getting on or off the school bus, the driver that struck them is responsible. However, in some situations, the bus driver may also bear some responsibility. In either case, injured students and their families can pursue a Maryland personal injury case against all potentially at-fault parties. It is important to keep in mind that the student’s own potential negligence may come up as a defense to their claims.

Sending a child to school on a school bus is a fact of life for many Maryland parents. Indeed, school buses make it possible for the children of busy parents to get to and from school. However, while school buses are by and large a safe means of transportation, there are many Maryland school bus accidents each year.

School buses themselves do a reasonably good job of keeping students safe, even in the event of an accident. However, this is not the case when students are not correctly sitting in a designated seat. According to a recent news report, several students spoke up after the bus they were riding in was involved in a traffic accident.

Evidently, one student told reporters that the bus was so packed that some students were sitting on the floor. She explained that the bus was often so crowded that there would be three students to a seat. Some students who did not want to be crammed into the seat, would not allow other students to sit with them, forcing them to sit on the floor. She also explained that it was common for students to ride with their legs in the aisle because there was no room to sit facing forward.

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.”

When parents allow their children to take the bus to school, they assume that the bus driver will get their children safely to and from school. Indeed, for the most part, school bus drivers are highly qualified drivers; however, even experienced drivers can occasionally make mistakes.

Earlier this month, a group of Maryland students were involved in a Maryland school bus accident in Schuylkill County. According to a local news report, the accident occurred around 9:45 in the morning as the students were on their way to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Evidently, the bus was on the highway when the driver noticed that a vehicle ahead had come to a stop. The driver of the bus attempted to swerve around the stopped vehicle, but ended up crashing into a propane tanker.

The bus, which was chartered by the school, contained 52 occupants, including 47 students, the driver, and four adult chaperones. Authorities reported that bus driver and two students sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the accident.

Maryland railroad accidents are more common than most people believe. While trains are not as ubiquitous as they once were in the United States, there is still a significant amount of cargo that is transported across the country by train. In fact, it is estimated that there are about 150,000 miles of active train tracks in the U.S. Much of this track is concentrated around the eastern seaboard, making Maryland a hub for railroad activity.

In addition to active train tracks, there are tens of thousands of miles of unused or abandoned tracks. And while most intersections between train tracks and roads are marked with signage or gates, that is not always the case. This can create confusion for a motorist who may not know if railroad tracks are active. Of course, when a motorist encounters an unfamiliar intersection with railroad tracks, it is always best for that motorist to slow down and check both ways before proceeding across the tracks.

Determining who is at fault in a Maryland train accident can be tricky, and depends heavily on the circumstances of the accident. While not all intersections with railroad tracks are required to have flashing lights or lowering arms, all intersections should be marked appropriately. If gates or lights have been installed, however, they should be adequately maintained. Additionally, the area immediately around the railroad track should be clear of foliage and debris to allow motorists to see if a train is approaching.

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