Earlier this year, a school bus driver in Belmont, N.C. was charged with reckless driving by the North Carolina Highway Patrol after the driver allegedly overturned the bus with four students on board. The bus was approaching a sharp curve on a wet road and the driver ran off the muddy shoulder, covered with wet leaves, losing control of the bus. Thankfully, according to WCNC.com, no serious injuries were reported.
Unfortunately, not all students in school bus accidents are so fortunate. One such case in California involved a driver who passed out behind the wheel, causing the school bus to smash into a tree while 11 children were on board. That was in 2014. The driver is charged with numerous felonies, including child abuse and endangerment and inflicting great bodily injury. Now, the OCRegister reports the school district has agreed to pay $10 million to the families of five of those children who were seriously injured. Their parents had filed lawsuits alleging the district was negligent in failing to heed warnings signs that the driver suffered from a serious medical condition and was not fit to be driving, let alone be responsible for safety and well-being of children.
There are a few different complicating legal factors in that case, underscoring the need for an experienced injury attorney.
The first deals with the fact that any time a school district is a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit, attorneys usually have to overcome an assertion of sovereign immunity or governmental immunity. The second is the fact that per N.C. Gen. Stat. section 143-299, any claims against any and all state departments, institutions or agencies (which includes the school districts) have to be filed with the Industrial Commission (rather than in the district court) within three years after the accrual of such a claim (or within two years for wrongful death). The third is the fact that in this particular case, the defense of a “sudden medical emergency” would need to be overcome. Generally, a driver who suffers a “sudden medical emergency” while behind the wheel is not considered negligent for the crash. But in order to prevail, a defendant would need to show the sudden emergency was not a situation of defendant’s own making and to which he or she responded as a reasonably prudent person would under the same or similar circumstances. Such a defense would fail if defendant driver had been advised of a potentially dangerous medical condition or had been explicitly warned by a doctor not to drive.
In the case out of California, the district reportedly admitted liability in the case prior to reaching a settlement.
The driver reportedly suffers from a condition known as pulmonary hypertension, which is a type of high blood pressure that impacts both the lungs and heart. Although he is young – just 27-years-old – he is allegedly very sick. Three months prior to the crash, a school district employee called to report that he was behaving oddly and might have health issues. The district responded by asking the driver to submit to a drug test. However, when that test came back negative, school administrators didn’t take any further action.
As a result of the bus accident, several students suffered a range of serious injuries, including traumatic brain injury, broken bones and internal injuries. Some now must grapple with permanent disabilities.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Orange Unified to pay $10 million to settle lawsuit over 2014 bus crash, Jan. 24, 2017, By Kelly Puente, The Orange County Register
More Blog Entries:
Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels – Punitive Damages Permitted in Hotel Shower Injury Lawsuit, Jan. 25, 2017, Winston-Salem Bus Accident Lawyer Blog