Who Is Liable for a School Bus Accident in Virginia?

School buses are an integral part of the daily traffic on the roads in Virginia. They are built to provide extra security to students, and driven by specially trained persons. Their safety features include reinforced sides, bright color to make them visible in traffic, flashing lights and stop signs and cross-view mirrors for the driver.

However, school bus accidents happen every year, resulting in severe injury or even death to students or drivers of passenger cars. When such a traffic accident occurs, you may wonder whom exactly to sue: the bus driver, the school district, the municipality? An experienced bus accident attorney at CAIL Law Firm can help you identify the responsible party and prepare a successful claim against them.

What You Need to Know about Sovereign Immunity Law in Virginia

Unfortunately, school bus crashes are complicated from the point of view of holding the at-fault party liable. The Commonwealth of Virginia uses the sovereign immunity principle, which offers protection to government entities and their employees against tort lawsuits.

This principle derives from the English Common Law, and it is one of the oldest laws in the US. It translates the principle of “the king can do no wrong” into the US legislation, stipulating that a government entity cannot be sued without its permission. However, in recent years, several exceptions were added to this rule, and one of them refers to school buses. This exception, used carefully by an experienced personal injury lawyer, allows parents of school bus passengers and other car drivers involved in a crash to sue for economic losses and noneconomic damages.

Thus, according to the Code of Virginia 22.1-194, if a school bus is owned an operated by the locality or the school district, these entities are liable to pay damages for medical care expenses and other damages related to bus collisions up to the limit of automobile insurance coverage required by law.

child boarding school bus

The Auto Insurance Limits in the Commonwealth of Virginia

All drivers in Virginia are required to carry insurance policies for liability for the minimum amounts of:

  • $50,000 for bodily injury and wrongful death per person
  • $200,000 for bodily injury and death for all persons in one accident
  • $10,000 for property damage.

However, depending on the circumstances and the type of accident you were involved in, you may be able to pursue other liable parties, not only the bus driver and the school board. With expert legal assistance from a knowledgeable attorney, you will get the fair compensation you deserve for you or your child after a traffic collision involving a school bus.

Important Information for Private Motor Vehicle Accident Victims

Drivers injured in a motor vehicle accident with a school bus need to be aware of the pure contributory negligence law in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is one of the four US states that applies this extremely strict rule in personal injury law.

According to this principle, you are entitled to file a claim for compensation for bodily injuries and property damage only if you are found to be 0% at fault for the accident. The smallest degree of responsibility voids your ability to file any potential claims, no matter how badly injured you are.

Who Exactly Is Liable in School-transportation Related Accidents?

After clarifying these important aspects, it is time to clarify the implications of school bus accidents from the point of view of finding and holding liable the at-fault party.

In most cases, accidents are caused by the bus driver actions or failure to take action. A drowsy driver or distracted driver may not brake on time to avoid a collision. In some cases, an incoming vehicle is in the driver’s blind spot, despite the specialized cross-view mirrors provided on school buses.

However, depending on what the driver was doing at the moment of the crash and who their employer is, an experienced personal injury lawyer can include other parties in the claim. For instance, if the driver is using the bus outside the work hours, they are liable as a private not commercial driver. If the accident happened when the driver was transporting students to or from school, they can be treated as a government employee, if they are directly employed by the school district.

In some cases, bus drivers are employed by a private company that has a contract for transporting students with a school board. In this case, you may be able to pursue the bus service providers if your attorney is able to find that:

  • the company hires inexperienced drivers
  • the driver has a series of accidents on their record, yet they were hired to drive students
  • the company applies lax safety standards in equipping the buses and training its drivers.

Last but not least if the cause of the accident is a poorly maintained or defective bus, claims for damages and personal injury can be brought against the manufacturer or the car shop that provides maintenance for the respective vehicle.

Richmond school bus accident

The Main Causes of School Bus Accidents

Buses are large and heavy vehicles, capable of carrying a dozen passengers or more. This means that bus crashes have terrible consequences and numerous victims. They and their families need to hire an experienced bus crash lawyer to investigate the precise causes of the accident in order to obtain sufficient compensatory damages to cover their medical treatment costs and other damages and losses.

According to a report published by the Virginia Department of Transportation, an error committed by the driver was the cause of 42.4% of school bus crashes. The same report identifies the following detailed causes for school bus collisions:

  • failure to yield
  • improper turns
  • failure to maintain safe distance
  • improper backing
  • improper lane change.

It is interesting to note that no bus crash injuries were due to drunk driving by the bus driver. This is owing to the very strict DUI laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia. First time offenders will:

  • pay a fine between $250 and $2,500
  • have their driving license revoked for 1 year
  • spend between 5 days and 1 year in jail, depending on blood alcohol content at the time of the offense
  • possibly have their vehicle impounded.

The fines and penalties become stiffer for the second and repeated DUI offenses, going as far as 5 years in jail and indefinite driving license revocation.

Safeguard Your Rights – Hire an Experienced Bus Accident Attorney!

As you can see, school bus accidents are more complex in terms of legal implications than other motor vehicle accidents. Bus drivers may be treated as government workers, and the sovereign immunity law limits your possibilities of taking legal action against them.

You need to retain an attorney experienced in government entity legal actions, who can determine the exact circumstances of the crash and the responsible parties. At the same time, you need to take action against the school bus driver and other parties within the statute of limitations – 2 years from the date of the accident.

The only exception to this rule is when the victim is a child – in this instance, the two years start running from the date when the accident victim turns 18 years old.

At CAIL Injury Law Firm, you will receive professional legal advice and the human attention and compassion you need in the difficult period you are going through. Whether you are the parent of a child injured in a bus crash, a pedestrian or a personal car driver, you have the right to receive financial compensation for hospital bills, other related expenses, pain and suffering. Call us for a free consultation: 1-800-HURT-123!

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