School buses are trusted with the most precious of cargo – our children. Each day, parents across Tennessee put their faith in school bus drivers to safely transport their children to and from school. One of the most dreaded phone calls a parent can get is that their child was injured in a school bus wreck.
School buses can be considered “common carriers” by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. A school bus is defined as “a passenger motor vehicle which is designed or used to carry more than 10 passengers in addition to the driver, and which the Secretary of Transportation determines is likely to be significantly used for the purpose of transporting pre-primary, primary, or secondary school students from home to school or school to home.” When a school bus crash results in numerous injuries or deaths, federal agencies typically get involved to conduct investigations into how and why it happened, and lessons others can learn to prevent tragedies in the future.
In Tennessee, school districts can handle their own transportation or contract out the service to a third party company. For example, Shelby County Schools contracts with Durham School Services. This private company is tasked with maintaining the bus fleet and hiring drivers. In contract, in Jackson, TN, school bus operations are handled by the Jackson Madison County School System. When pursuing a case involving a school bus accident, an important consideration is whether your claim is against a private company or governmental entity.
If your child was riding a school bus and got hurt in a wreck, you (as parent or guardian) could incur medical bills and miss work to take them to the doctor. Even more damages can result from a wrongful death. In a school bus accident personal injury claim, an experienced lawyer will want to conduct a complete investigation into all circumstances that could have relevance to the case, including:
- Understand how the accident happened. You can start by obtaining the police report from the responding police department, sheriff’s office, or highway patrol. After severe crashes, the Tennessee Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) may get involved. CIRT officers conduct a more in-depth investigation, including scene measurements and diagrams. If the school bus driver caused the wreck, the bus company’s liability insurance will be responsible for the damages. What if another car is to blame? Your attorney should interview witnesses to identify all responsible parties. Depending on the facts of the crash, your attorney may want to hire an accident reconstruction expert to analyze the crash scene and applicable data.
- Preserve relevant evidence. In a personal injury claim against a commercial carrier, it is critical to take steps to prevent the spoliation of evidence. For example, some buses have cameras, but action must be taken to make sure the footage is preserved. It may be necessary to examine bus maintenance records or examine “black box” data, which gives insight into factors like speed and braking maneuvers taken. While the carrier should preserve these forms of evidence anyways, they could possibly disappear or get destroyed in the ordinary course of business if steps are not taken to preserve them from the beginning.
- Identify relevant legal theories. The most common way to recover against an at-fault school bus driver is proving negligence, in other words the failure to act reasonably under the circumstances. Examples of fault are speeding, drunk driving (DUI), texting while driving, making an improper turn, and driving too fast for conditions. Even if the police report places the driver at fault, further digging can be needed. For instance, did the company conduct a proper background check on the driver? Did the driver have a history of driving violations, arrests, or DUIs? If so, he or she may not be fit to operate a school bus. Particularly when catastrophic injuries are involved, understanding all applicable legal theories will help ensure all expenses and damages are ultimately covered.
What you just read is the tip of the iceberg when handling a motor vehicle accident case, just some of the ways in which an experienced truck or bus accident lawyer will seek to conduct as complete of an investigation as possible. To speak more in-depth with a school bus accident attorney today, call Nahon, Saharovich & Trotz at 800-529-4004 or complete our online form. Our team of attorneys and paralegals can get started right away, and we have experience handling accident cases involving traumatic injuries throughout Tennessee, including Memphis, Jackson, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Murfreesboro.