Los Angeles School Bus Injuries & Accidents

School buses are a hallmark of public education and are the way a majority of students get to and from school each day.  The idea of walking your child to the bus stop on the first day of school is so ingrained in American culture that it is almost synonymous with the school system itself.  Unfortunately, the high number of students on the road everyday have necessitated the need for a school bus system.

Along with the high demand for school buses and bus routes comes the added worry of the occasional bus accident.  The lack of safety features on most school buses can lead to devastating injuries for all students.  Bus accidents can also include the tragic situation when a student is hit by another car while either entering or exiting the bus.

In fact, the vast number of injuries caused by school bus related accidents stem from the loading and unloading of schools, often while students are exiting the bus.  It is extremely important for drivers to heed the school warning signs, although many drivers become impatient and purposely drive around school buses, regardless of the “stop” sign.  This can result in severe injuries to children exiting the school bus.  As the parent of a child injured in a school bus accident in Los Angeles county, you are entitled to bring a claim for your child’s injuries against the responsible party.

Safety To and From School

The history of the school bus stems back to legislation passed in Massachusetts in 1869 which earmarked the use of state funds to transport school children.  While this was indeed well before the time of the automobile, it indicated a pressing need for students to be transported to and from schoolhouses in order to guarantee attendance.  Legislation paved the way throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as modified farm wagons were the norm for rural students to get to and from one-room schoolhouses.  However, by the onset of World War I, motorized vehicles began to replace the covered farm wagons.

In the 1920s, steel automobile chassis began to replace the wooden bodies of the wagons and the modern school bus began to take shape.  The National Traffic and Motor Safety Act was passed in 1966 after studies indicated the alarming rate of deaths attributable to motor vehicle accidents.  The Act allowed the federal government to administer new safety standards for motor vehicles, which also trickled down to school bus standards.  Since 1966, dozens of safety features have been required of school buses.  Many of these safety standards were unfortunately the result of a devastating accident which occurred in 1988.  After this point, school buses were required to be retro-fitted with emergency exits, mirrors to allow the bus driver to see along the side of the bus, and the swing-out stop signs for motorists attempting to pass the bus while children are entering or exiting.

These safety standards have come a long way since the early days of the covered farm wagon which offered little protection to students in rural communities.  However, as vehicles get larger, heavier, and faster, accidents become more commonplace.  Buses are easy targets on the highways since they are not as easy to manipulate – if a car gets into the same lane as a bus, it is difficult for a bus to correct itself.  It is also easy for a car to get into the blind spot of a school bus, leading to dangerous situations.  Buses do not have as many safety features as modern cars, despite being in charge of our children on a daily basis.  School districts simply do not have the funds to expend on school bus revisions each year.  The federal government has remained mindful of the constraints which safety features can have on the local school district budgets.  As a result, the federal agencies have come short of requiring school buses to come equipped with seat belts, which has become an ongoing issue throughout the country.

Seatbelt Strangulation

A limited number of school buses now come equipped with seat belts in an effort to make the buses safer for the thousands of students who ride to and from school each day.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opted to leave the decision as to whether to retrofit school buses to individual states and local jurisdictions.  The administration determined that it could not issue a blanket requirement that every school district purchase seat belts for school buses given the great expense of including them on each individual bus.  The seat belt dilemma has reached new heights as regulators now face the danger of seat belt strangulation.

Seat belts have the potential to cause debilitating injuries to children without full car accidents occurring.  A child may easily get tangled up in the seat belt to the extent that the child is unable to breathe.  Once a child is tangled up to this extent, it is often very difficult to remove the seat belt.  A seat belt cutter is often the only method to get the seat belt off when a child is unable to breathe.

When a child is on a school bus full of seat belts, the bus driver may be unable to observe one child playing with the seatbelts who is unable to breathe, and may not be able to get to the child in time.  A school district may be held liable for injuries sustained from seat belt strangulation if the school district has not provided seat belts with safe locking retractors that allow children to get out of a seatbelt in case of strangulation.  By the time a bus driver is made aware of a dangerous situation, a child may not have enough time left.  These types of injuries that can occur from seat belts are one reason many schools have opted out of seat belts on school buses.

Bus Injury Statistics

Between 2004 and 2013, only .4% of all fatal accidents attributed to children were classified as school bus related accidents, indicating a drastic decrease over the years of the number of severe accidents which impact our children.  However, the number of children injured in bus accidents is still a sizeable number.   The majority of bus accidents occur to children when they are entering or exiting the bus – therefore, statistically, children are safer inside the bus then outside the bus.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that since 2004, approximately 100 people were killed while riding in a school bus.  Out of this number, 45 of the fatalities represent drivers.  Taking into account the fact that each year, hundreds of thousands of students ride the bus to school every day, school buses provide a safe form of transportation to most students.  However, for those parents who students unfortunately found themselves on the wrong statistic, a school bus accident can have devastating consequences to their health and their future.

Most national statistics focus on the number of fatalities occurring from school bus accidents, without much time given to study the number of injuries which occur every year.  However, reports indicate that more than 17,000 children are sent to emergency rooms each year as a result of school bus-related accidents.[1]

Unsafe Bus Stops

Gone are the days when school buses traveled to student’s houses to pick them up individually.  Students must now instead walk to a nearby bus stop which could be in the middle of a heavily congested traffic area.  School buses do everything they can to provide safe entry and exits for students at bus stops, although some bus stops are more dangerous than others.

The majority of bus accidents do not occur while children are on the bus itself, but often when students are entering and exiting the bus.  The bus driver is often aware of dangerous bus stops and should alert both the parents and students of these dangers to help protect the students.   The school should also be made aware of the dangers at specific bus stops and work to curb the incidence of speeding cars and other dangers.

No Crossing Guards

Crossing guards also help minimize the danger to students and provide a method for students to cross busy intersections without their parents nearby.  However, the failure of a school to have a back-up crossing guard in place in case the assigned crossing guard is not available one morning could have drastic repercussions on the safety of a child.  Crossing guards protect mostly against cars turning onto other streets, and alert drivers that they should slow down or delay turning while the child is crossing.  Crossing guards serve a vital role every day in the areas around schools where drivers may not see small children crossing.  Schools are in charge of maintaining appropriate routes for crossing guards.  However, if children are injured in streets where a crossing guard normally protects the students, a school district may be held responsible for the resulting injuries to the child.

School District Negligence

The family of a child injured in a bus accident may bring a claim for damages against the school district to cover the costs of their child’s medical care, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.  In limited circumstances, a parent may also bring a claim that includes future earnings if the child received a devastating life-altering injury.

A claim for negligence may be brought against the school in the case of negligent hiring, negligent supervision, or the failure of a school district to properly maintain its fleet of buses, all of which could result in injuries to a child.  A negligent hire could fail to report to cross guard duty, leading to dangerous bus accidents.  School districts may also hire a bus driver who does not have the appropriate experience, and can therefore be held liable for any accidents which occur.  The lack of supervision in school buses or in the area surrounding school bus loading on school campuses could additionally lead to school district liability.

Los Angeles School Bus Accident Attorneys

Our children are the most important people in our lives, and we trust their safety to the school districts every day.  When school districts fail to guarantee their safety on school buses, it is important that parents bring claims against the school district.  A claim against the school district for their negligence in failing to meet school bus safety guidelines may help to prevent a child from being injured in the future.

The attorneys of Panish Shea & Boyle are experienced in assisting our clients with their Los Angeles school bus accident claims.  We understand the devastation which can occur from one single bus accident when that bus is carrying 30 children. We will work tirelessly to ensure that you and your family receive the compensation you deserve for the injuries your child sustained in the bus accident.  Contact our Los Angeles and Irvine offices today for your initial free consultation.