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Kentucky Bus Accident Injures 14 Students- Could Bus Driver be Held Liable for Negligence?

June 16 2017 | Blog
  • Kentucky Bus Accidental attorney

    School bus driver liability – no easy answers

    What are the limits of school bus driver liability in an accident? If pupils get injured in a crash that results from a driver’s reaction to a sudden, external danger, can he or she still be found liable for the said injuries? Can a driver be found guilty of negligence if their reaction to such danger is not the one that is deemed the safest or exemplary? According to the Traffic Safety Report for the years 2006-2015 published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, less than a half percent of all traffic accidents can be labeled as school-transportation-related crashes; nevertheless, as stated in the same report, those crashes result in an average of 131 fatalities per year. Therefore, the questions mentioned above are not merely theoretical problems – rather, they are very real issues faced by many families of students injured each year in school bus accidents, as well as by their lawyers. The answers to those questions may not always be obvious, especially if the circumstances of the accident are not common. A recent school bus crash in Kentucky that left 14 students injured may as well be an example of such case.

    Wildlife on the road causes a school bus accident

    On the Monday morning of April 24th, a school bus was transporting students from Buckhorn School to a vocational school in Perry County. The bus was headed eastbound on Highway 28 and was passing near Gays Creek, about 106 miles southeast of Lexington, when the driver Pam Couch, 61, lost control of the vehicle and ran over an embankment. Subsequently, the bus smashed into a tree and, landing in a ditch, came to a halt. The impact likely absorbed most of the vehicle’s speed and prevented the bus from falling over, thus mitigating the damage. As the driver explained to the police, the accident happened when she swerved in order to avoid hitting a deer that suddenly appeared on the road. Both the driver and 14 students were injured in the crash, however the injuries they sustained were deemed minor. 12 pupils were taken to the hospital, while 2 left with their parents. No criminal charges were brought against the bus driver.

    Common Carriers in Negligence Lawsuits

    From a legal standpoint, what makes this case interesting is the decision of the driver to veer in order to avoid a collision with the deer. When a driver is faced with a possibility of an impact with a wild animal crossing the road, they need to make a blink-of-an-eye decision – whether to swerve and try to avoid the animal or to maintain the vehicle in the lane and strike it with the least possible speed they can decelerate to. In the case of smaller animals, such as deer, it is usually advised not to try to avoid the collision. This option is thought to be safer for the driver and the passengers because the alternative – a sudden evasive maneuver – may result in losing control and end in a more serious accident. Now, how is this information relevant in the case of the Kentucky school bus accident? In general, and in most states, school buses are considered common carriers. The term applies to entities that transport people or goods for compensation. While a private person driving a car needs to display a reasonable level of care, common carriers, and so, by extension, school bus drivers, need to exhibit extreme or extraordinary care. Did the Kentucky school bus driver show such care or fail to do so? Can the decision to swerve in order to avoid hitting the wild animal be viewed as a failure to display extraordinary care and thus constitute negligence? Were there road signs in the area warning about the possibility of wild animal crossing? If there were, did the driver adjust the speed of the vehicle accordingly? All of these circumstances may potentially be crucial should a negligence liability lawsuit be brought against the driver.

    On the other hand, it needs to be noted that legal precedents exist showing that a bus driver will not always be held liable if passengers sustained injuries in an accident that was caused by the driver’s reaction to a sudden, external hazard. For example, in the case Shishvan v. Wood et al., 2005 BCSC 1304, Mr. Dhaliwal, the driver, was not find “in any breach of duty imposed upon him under the law”, even though a passenger on his bus fell over and got injured after Mr. Dhaliwal braked sharply when a pedestrian suddenly stepped on the road. In this particular case, the driver’s action was found reasonable and corresponding to an unexpected external hazard. Therefore, if the Kentucky bus accident becomes a subject of a civil lawsuit, the key issue will be to determine whether the manner in which the driver drove before the accident, as well as the manner in which she responded to a sudden external danger, did or did not constitute a breach of duty to exhibit the extraordinary care required of a person acting as a common carrier.

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