Lessons to Learn From the Hays County Cement Truck vs School Bus Accident

When you place your child on a school bus and send them off to school, you are entrusting the school district with the safety of your child. However, the recent tragedy in Hays County where many were injured and two children lost their lives is likely to expose to many that Texas bus insurance laws do not protect your children adequately in the event of a public school bus crash. Under the law seat belts may not be required on your child’s bus. Additionally, Texas insurance laws and sovereign immunity rules may leave your child with too little insurance to cover the medical bills and injuries suffered in a serious bus accident. This article will explain the problems that lead knowledgeable bus accident lawyers to advocate for changes in Texas law as it pertains to school buses.

Do School Busses Have to Have Seat Belts?

school busCurrent Texas law requires that buses be manufactured with a three-point harness seat belt. This law was passed in 2017. Prior to 2007, no seat belt of any kind was even required.  However, the law does not require old-school buses to be retrofitted with seat belts.  Sadly, many of those old yellow school buses that look like they have been around for decades have been around since before the law. They are effectively grandfathered in. So, before you assume your child will be buckled in for safety, you might want to inquire about the specific bus they will be riding.

Other Drivers Rarely Have Sufficient Insurance to Cover the Likely Damages

The Hays County bus accident involved a concrete truck that swerved into oncoming traffic and struck the school bus with pre-k children. Concrete trucks are required by law to carry a minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance when they are involved in only intrastate vs interstate trucking. If you have seen the video, clearly the cement truck crossed the center line and struck the bus that was attempting to move right to avoid him.

$500,000 may sound like a lot of money. But when you consider that two 5-year-olds were killed and a busload of others were injured, that money can dry up really fast. What should be more alarming is that had this been a passenger car vs a cement truck, Texas only requires drivers of passenger cars to carry a minimum of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident.

Stowers Demands Cause a Footrace for Coverage

Under Texas law, when an insurance company receives a demand within the policy limits and is given a reasonable time-limited opportunity to settle but fails to do so, they can be held liable for over the policy limits. This is known as a Stowers Demand. So, the law allows them to pay out their full policy to the first person who sends a Stowers Demand letter and demonstrates their damages exceed the policy. Either the deceased child’s lawyer could send such a demand and potentially receive the full policy limits leaving everyone else to either file an underinsured motorist claim (if their parent’s auto policy has this optional coverage) or pay the bills on their own.

Can You Sue the School District?

There are two issues with trying to sue the school district: sovereign immunity and negligence.

Sovereign Immunity and School Buses

When you file a claim for personal injuries against a public school district, you are suing the government. Under Texas sovereign immunity laws, the government can only be sued for reasons allowed under the Texas Torts Claims Act. The decision not to retrofit a bus with seat belts does not fall into any of the allowed reasons under the Texas Tort Claims Act

Negligently causing injury with a motor vehicle is one of the exceptions. However, the video makes it pretty clear that the cement truck crossed the center line. In addition, he admitted to having taken two different illegal narcotics in the preceding 24-hour period—including that very morning.

Damages Caps on Public School Buses

Additionally, under the Texas Tort Claims Act, a public school bus is considered a “unit of local government.” Units of local government under the Act are provided with a shield against a high award of damages. The school district is only liable for damages up to $100,000 per person and $300,000 maximum liability per accident when a bus driver’s negligence causes or contributes to a car accident.

Uninsured and Underinsured Insurance Not Allowed for Public School Buses

By law, not only are Texas School Buses shielded from liability over a certain amount, but they also are prohibited from purchasing Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Insurance to make up for the failure. Texas Constitution Article 3 prohibits spending state money to benefit private individuals. In 1975, the Texas Attorney General was asked about this and issued an attorney general opinion that it would be a violation of the Texas Constitution because uninsured underinsured motorist benefits would be providing a financial benefit to persons whom the school district owes no legal obligation. (Opinion H-602.) Basically, the Texas attorney general determined that it is up to the parents to purchase uninsured underinsured motorist coverage if they want their own children to be protected when riding on a school bus.

Hays CountyWhat Can We Learn From This?

First, you need to ask whether your child’s public school bus has seat belts before you decide to let your child ride. Second, you need to make sure you have plenty of Uninsured Underinsured Motorist Insurance Coverage on your policy in the event your child is injured on a school bus and there is too little or even no coverage. Lastly, if your child is in a serious bus accident, talk to a commercial motor vehicle accident lawyer sooner rather than later so that your demand latter goes out before someone else depletes the entire policy, if there is one.




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