On Monday over a dozen students were injured and a driver died after a collision involving a school bus and a pickup truck on a Georgia highway. These tragic accidents are not nearly as rare as most suspect. For example, according to a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), between 2001 and 2010, there were 1,236 fatal school transportation related accidents. These collisions resulted in a total of 1,368 deaths. In 2010 alone, 129 people died in school transportation related accidents; numerous others sustain serious injuries.
If you or your loved one are injured, or if your loved one is killed, as a result of a school transportation related collision, it is important to contact an attorney in order to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
Several Parties May Be Liable After an Accident
Depending on the facts of the case, you may be entitled to compensation for your loss from several parties. For example, if the school bus driver is at fault, you may be able to recover damages from the driver and either the school board, or the company contracted to provide transportation services for the school. This is important because school boards and private businesses generally have more substantial insurance policies and other means of compensating accident victims than drivers.
Respondeat Superior & Employer Liability
Typically, a school board or a transportation service company would be held liable for the driver’s negligence under the legal theory of respondeat superior. This legal theory provides that employers are vicariously liable for the negligent acts of their employees, which are committed within the scope of employment. In order for the employer to be held liable, two elements need to be satisfied. First, an employer-employee relationship must exist. Second, the negligent act or omission must have occurred within the scope of employment.
An employer-employee relationship is present when the school board or transportation service company possesses a right of control over the driver’s general activities. In some instances companies will try and avoid liability under respondeat superior by hiring drivers as independent contractors. However, an agreement to serve as an independent contractor is not sufficient to avoid liability. A court will consider the interactions between the company and driver to determine whether they had an employer-employee or independent contractor relationship.
A driver’s negligent acts or omissions are within the scope of employment if they related to what the driver was hired to do or, if the acts or omissions were committed while carrying on the objective of employment. Minor deviations from an authorized route are still considered to be within the scope of employment. For example, if a driver went off route to stop for a beverage or meal and caused an accident en route, their actions would still be considered within the scope of employment.