Accidents involving children are some of the most heart-wrenching cases we deal with as a Panama City injury law firm. Smaller and growing bodies can be especially susceptible to injury, and there are few things as difficult to face as the loss of a child. The reality of our modern, busy world is that parents often entrust their children to the care of others, including schools. Getting children to and from the school is an important task, and for many in our region, this involves using the school bus.
Last week, Northwest Florida Daily News reported on an accident involving a school bus. Driver Thomas Mendez, 68, was behind the wheel of a school bus in Santa Rosa when he missed a stop on West Hewitt Road in Santa Rosa Beach near Lauren Lane. According to officials from the Florida Highway Patrol, he proceeded to back-up the school bus and ran into an SUV stopped behind the bus. The accident occurred around 12:30 P.M. and 25 students were onboard at the time. The SUV incurred about $2,000 in damages. Thankfully, no one was injured in the collision.
In 2002, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration ("NHTSA") presented a report to Congress on school bus safety. According to the report, public school students travel 4.3 billion miles annually on 450,000 buses. Statistically, school bus occupants are safer than those travelling in other vehicles, with only 10 occupant deaths on an average year. This translates to 0.2 occupant deaths for 100 million vehicle miles travelled, while cars have a fatality rate of 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles.
Over an 11-year period, the NHTSA reported an average of 26,000 school bus crashes per year. The study also found an average of just under 1,000 incapacitating injuries and 7,000 additional injuries in school bus crashes annually. Other sources put this number much higher, at 17,000 emergency room visits. The NHTSA report did not account for the number of non-occupant injuries, including the danger of children being hit at bus stops or while boarding or disembarking from the bus. A related but different problem occurs when other drivers fail to obey traffic rules and hit children getting on or off the school bus.
School bus accidents can cause a range of injuries including fractures, head injury, amputations, and internal bleeding. Accidents can also lead to death. School bus crashes can stem from a number of causes, including driver negligence or inattention, poor maintenance, unsafe district policies, or the failure of other drivers to heed safety laws. Studies suggest the period between 3 and 4 in the afternoon is the most dangerous time for school buses.
There are a number of legal complexities involved in claims stemming from school bus collisions. Injured victims may have claims against the driver, an independent bus company, or the school board. The doctrine of sovereign immunity may apply to claims against government-related entities, so the plaintiff may need to prove gross negligence. This standard goes beyond standard negligence and involves an utter disregard for the safety of another person. School bus accidents may also trigger additional notice requirements.
If your child is injured or dies as a result of a Panama City bus injury, please call our firm. We understand the complex laws governing these claims and we can help you receive the compensation due under Florida law.