In a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered whether there were enough facts to establish a waiver of the Arlington Independent School District’s immunity from suit under the Texas Tort Claims Act in a bus accident case. The case arose when a minor was standing inside a school bus aisle. The bus was going five miles per hour when the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting another bus. The minor was thrown forward and hit the windshield.
The minor’s representative sued AISD on the grounds that the bus driver was negligent and had caused the daughter’s injuries and damages. The complaint stated that the trial court could hear this case because its sovereign immunity was waived for personal injury claims caused by negligent school bus drivers under § 101.021(1) of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. The trial court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment, which argued there was no jurisdiction due to sovereign immunity.
The school district argued that the parent had not pled a claim that fell within the law’s limited immunity waiver for the use of a motor vehicle. Instead, it argued, the complaint just showed that the district had failed to supervise, direct, or control students riding the school bus. Prior case law stated that when claims have to do with the direction and supervision of students, there is no waiver of immunity. The allegations have to be related to the negligent use of a motor vehicle in order for the lawsuit to proceed.
The appellate court explained that governmental immunity protects governmental entities in Texas, such as a public school district, from lawsuits seeking monetary damages, except when immunity has been waived. The Texas Tort Claims Act waives immunity for personal injuries caused by a government employee acting with the scope of employment when the use of a motor vehicle causes personal injuries. To show the waiver, the plaintiff needs to be able to point to a causal nexus between the use of the vehicle and his or her injuries.
In this case, the court explained, the school district disregarded the intent of the plaintiff’s pleadings. The pleadings stated that the girl had been hurt because the driver brought the bus to a sudden stop. The girl testified that the driver was looking in the rear view mirror instead of where she was going when she hit the brakes. The bus driver had testified that the purpose of hitting the brakes was to avoid a collision. In other words, the girl had been thrown into the windshield because the driver wasn’t paying attention to the road and hit the brakes to avoid a collision. The school bus hadn’t simply created the conditions that allowed this injury, but instead the driver’s operation of the bus actually caused them.
The appellate court found that the case law on which the school district relied didn’t apply to the facts because the requisite nexus was missing in those cases, unlike in the case at hand. It affirmed the lower court’s order denying the school district’s plea to the jurisdiction.
If you are hurt in a bus accident, the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to represent you and develop a sound strategy for handling your case. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.