On April 17, busses from the Navasota school district, about halfway between Austin and Houston, were involved in a collision with a utility truck in Fairbanks North Houston. Both students and adults were injured in the crash, requiring transport to local hospitals. While no fatalities have been reported as of this writing, the crash was nonetheless a severe one, and it is worth noting that the students and faculty were lucky – bus crashes, in particular, are prone to many injuries and even death.
Different Legal Classifications
For legal purposes, busses are divided into two different classifications, governmental and private. Private buses include commercial vehicles like Greyhound buses, charters, and shuttles like those used at airports. Government buses are public transport buses, school buses and those used for transport of the disabled. More specifically, any bus that is not considered to be owned by the general public is considered to fall under the ‘private’ heading, and as such, the law covering their liability is different than that covering governmental transportation.
For example, one might investigate the issue of seat belts in the vehicle. Unlike many other states, school buses in Texas do require seat belts for all passengers, though this requirement was not instituted until 2017. Previously, seat belts were equipped with any bus bought after 2007, but there was no requirement to wear them. After two severe accidents which caused the deaths of multiple students, however, the law was updated to require their use. It is reasonable to wonder how many lives were saved by their use in the Navasota crash, though there are some situations in which seat belts do not do enough, and as one might expect, there are always those who simply do not wear them.
Is Bringing Suit Possible?
Bringing suit against a governmental entity like a school district is decidedly more difficult than suing a private company like Greyhound. Many jurisdictions in Texas have what is referred to as sovereign immunity, which bars private citizens from suing the government in civil court. The Texas Tort Claims Act waives sovereign immunity in some instances, but not others – for example, it covers claims where a government employee acts negligently while within the scope of their employment, but not where a private actor does the same thing. If the school bus driver in the Navasota crash was deemed to be negligent, the school district might be liable, but not if only the truck driver was held to be negligent, because he or she is a private actor.
If you are able to prove that sovereign immunity does not apply, there are then four criteria you must be able to show before you can be entitled to compensation. You must show that there was a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff and that the duty was breached – which can be more difficult than it appears. You must also show that you or your child suffered tangible harm (not necessarily physical harm; something like posttraumatic stress would likely qualify) and that the harm was due directly to the conduct of the defendant. It is not possible to sue a governmental entity for punitive damages, but compensation for negligence can cover medical bills and all the expenses that one might outlay after an accident.
Call Our Experienced Attorneys
While bus crashes are thankfully rare, they do happen, and it is important to know your options if you or a loved one are unfortunate enough to be in the middle of one. Our talented New Braunfels bus accident lawyers at the Bettersworth Law Firm can sit down with you, answer your questions and try to help you determine where to go from here. Contact our office today to set up an appointment.