Ohio school bus accident: can the bus driver be sued?

A Fremont, Ohio city school bus driver this week ran into the back of another school bus on U.S. 20 just west of U.S. 23 injuring one student from each bus. The front bus slowed for traffic and the driver of the second, back, bus was cited for failure to maintain an assured clear distance. The Bowling Green accident can be instructive of what happens when bus driver negligence injures multiple people, in this case children.

Under Ohio law, the second bus driver is liable for the negligent injuries they caused to the two children. Most likely, more children will wake up the next day with sore necks and stiffness, which is the beginning of sprain strain syndromes. Hard to believe, but even on a large bus, you can be seriously hurt because most buses do not have seatbelts, and students end up being thrown around like balls in a pinball machine. Over the years I have seen serious injuries caused by minor bus impacts. Strange but true, but an elementary understanding of physics explains this. Force equals mass times acceleration, and the mass of a bus is large, so the forces acting on the body are large. Add to this the fact that you are thrown around the bus, and many serious injuries can occur.

The employer of the bus driver, in this case the Fremont city school district, will also be liable under the theory of respondeat superior vicarious liability. This is a fancy word to explain what most Ohioans already know, that the boss is liable for the negligent acts of their employees while on the job. This is true even if the employer did nothing wrong such as negligently hire, train or retain the employee. Public policy says somebody has to pay the bill, and employers have deep pockets.

This employer liability is why school districts carry large liability policies. They have lost of drivers out there every day and the possibility of multiple accidents is very real. Without insurance, the school district would have to pay all the injured people out of their own pockets.

Now suing a city school district raises the issue of can you sue a city school district or are they immune from suit. Under Ohio law, which is quite complicated and convoluted, see RC 2744 and RC 2745, you can sue the city school district for the negligence of their employee bus drivers. They have what is know as “qualified immunity” which means as a general rule the city or state will only pay what is left after you have billed your health and auto Med Pay insurance. If you don’t have either, the city or state picks up the entire tab. On a related know, if you use your health insurance, the code creates the situation where many times you do not have to repay your health insurance company. The lose their right to get their money back from the city or state. It is sometimes called “loss of subrogation rights.” It is important to talk to an Ohio car or truck accident lawyer about all these issues and more that arise after an injury caused by a city or state employee’s negligence.

As for insurance, since school districts usually carry large liability policies and they have to pay whatever insurance does not, you usually do not have to use your own uninsured or underinsured motorist policy. Compare this to the situation where a car hurt the people on the bus, which I wrote about in another article. There may not be enough liability insurance from the driver of the car to cover everyone on the bus, the bus may not have UM coverage, and so each passenger must fend for himself or herself using their own auto policies or those of people they lived with at the time of the accident.