Davis v. Baez – School Bus Driver Liability for Student Injury
Gregg Hollander | December 9, 2016 | Bus Accidents
School districts across Florida – and the country – are responsible for ensuring the safe transportation of millions of students to and from class each day. In so doing, these districts, contractors and employers assume a duty of care to students to take reasonable measures to protect the safety and well-being of these minors. In some cases, that involves not just the transportation that occurs to and from school, but also for the planning and protections in place at designated bus stops and while children board or disembark from buses.
Recently, an appellate court in Florida decided in Davis v. Baez that an injured student may proceed with her lawsuit against a school bus driver. The driver reportedly insisted student and her brother cross a busy, dark road before school to be waiting on the opposite side of the street – where the bus stop was located – when he arrived. He informed the students if they weren’t waiting at the stop on the east side of the street when he got there, he would leave without them.
There were several problems with this, the first being that such protocol was against school policy, which dictated that students who needed to cross a busy street to get to their stop should wait for the bus, so the driver could activate the flashing lights and “STOP” arm and allow children to more safely cross. The driver, who worked for a transportation company contracted by the school district, conceded he had given the children this instruction, despite knowing it was against district policy.
As it turned out, this was district policy for good reason. One morning as the 18-year-old high school senior crossed the dark street from the west side to the east side with her younger brother, a car can speeding past and struck her. The incident occurred around 5:50 a.m. The bus had not yet arrived at the time of the incident. Plaintiff suffered severe injuries.
She filed a personal injury lawsuit naming the school board and the driver. She alleged the driver and the school board were negligent for failing to instruct her and her brother to wait on the west side of the street until the bus arrived and could halt traffic so they could cross safely.
The school district was granted summary judgement, as was driver, on sovereign immunity grounds.
Plaintiff appealed as to the claim against the driver, arguing he was not entitled to sovereign immunity protection because he acted outside the scope of his employment. Specifically, he:
- Took it upon himself of his own initiative to advise plaintiff he’d be picking her up on the east side of the road, requiring her to cross before he got there;
- Failed to instruct her and her brother to wait on the west side of the street, according to safe school board policy;
- Requiring plaintiff to cross the street before the bus arrived, even knowing it would be dangerous.
Defendant acknowledged he had told the children they could not wait on the west side of the street. A bus route manager for the school district testified not only were the children permitted to wait on the west side of the street, but that it would have been proper procedure for them to do so.
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment previously granted in favor of the driver. The court noted that sovereign immunity would have been conferred on the driver if:
- He acted in the scope of his employment;
- He did not act in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner showing willful or wanton disregard for human rights or safety.
Based on the evidence presented, the court ruled, there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether driver was acting in the scope of employment in directing the children to cross the street before he arrived and also whether he acted in bad faith.
The injury lawsuit was remanded for trial.
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Davis v. Baez , Nov. 9, 2016, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal