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Texas School District Liability for Child’s Fall From School Bus

In Austin Independent School District v. Idolinda Salinas, a mother sued individually, as a next friend of her son, for injuries suffered by her son when he opened a back exit door and leaped from a moving school bus.

The son was a child with a disability going home on a District school bus. The bus passed his stop, so the son asked that the driver pull over to let him out, but the driver didn’t. The son tried to climb out a window, and when that didn’t work, he went to the back of the bus.

He stood at the back of the bus for a while and then opened a handle on the back door, which triggered a buzzer to alert the driver. The door opened, and the boy jumped out and suffered injuries. The bus driver only pulled over when she saw the boy on the ground.

The boy’s mother sued the District to recover compensation for her son’s injuries. She alleged negligence under section 101.021(1) of the TCA. Negligent acts according to the complaint included the driver’s failure to apply the brakes in a timely way and a failure to look out for her son’s safety. She also claimed negligence per se for various violations of the Transportation Code. The District answered, claiming that these allegations didn’t trigger the limited waiver of governmental immunity under the TCA.

The mother amended her petition and added claims about the driver’s misuse of bus parts, such as the rear-view mirror, the buzzer, and the brakes. She also added an allegation of speeding and failing to drive attentively. She also alleged further Transportation Code violations, such as section 545.426(a)(1), which prohibits driving while the school bus door is open. The District filed an amended plea to the jurisdiction, which was denied. The District appealed.

The appellate court reasoned that the District was a governmental unit under the TCA and therefore immune unless there was a statutory waiver of its immunity. The school district couldn’t be liable under section 101.021(1) of the TCA for personal injuries legally caused by a negligent employee unless the injuries arose from the use and operation of a motor-driven vehicle.

In other words, to find immunity, there needed to be a nexus between the use of the motor-driven vehicle and the plaintiff’s injuries. However, the nexus couldn’t be found if the use of the vehicle didn’t do more than provide the setting that made it possible for the plaintiff to be injured.

Instead, the injury had to be caused by the actual use of the motor-driven vehicle, not the failure to use it. Injuries arising from the supervision of bus passengers, for example, would not have the requisite nexus to the use of the vehicle.

The District argued on appeal that the mother’s pleaded facts didn’t show that her son’s injuries arose from the use of a motor vehicle or that there was a sufficient connection between the use of the vehicle and the injuries. It argued that the allegations constituted claims of negligent supervision of bus passengers, which wouldn’t waive its governmental immunity.

The mother argued that the driver continued to operate the bus after her son opened the door and that this made the District liable, even if a failure to supervise was part of the claim. She also argued that use or operation didn’t need to be the sole cause of the injuries. The appellate court agreed with this latter point, but it explained that the crux of her allegations involved the driver’s failure to supervise her son.

It further explained that there were no citations to support her argument that the alleged violations of the Transportation Code would be enough to waive immunity. The appellate court concluded that although the boy suffered terrible injuries, the terms of the statutory waiver didn’t allow for recovery in this case. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s denial of the District’s plea to the jurisdiction and rendered judgment for the District.

If you or your child is injured in a school bus accident, you should consult an experienced Texas attorney with experience in cases involving possible governmental immunity. Consult the experienced San Antonio attorneys at Carabin Shaw for more information at 1-800-862-1260.

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