School Bus Driver Not Liable for Student Injured in Fight

Parents trust their children to school bus drivers and operators every day. But that does not mean a school district or an individual driver can be held liable for all injuries suffered by children while riding a bus. TheAppellate Division, Second Department, recently explained these legal principles in a case arising from a fight between middle school students on Long Island.

Braun v. Longwood Junior High School

After departing from a junior high school in Middle Island, New York, several boys began throwing paper balls at each other. One eighth-grade boy objected to getting hit with one of the balls and warned the others to stop. This led to a confrontation, and ultimately another boy punched the eighth-grade boy in the face.

The boy and his parents sued the school as well as the bus driver and the company contracted to operate the school bus. Suffolk County Supreme Court dismissed the driver and bus company defendants in a March 2013 order. The Second Department affirmed that decision in a decision issued on December 10th of this year.

The Second Department explained that while a school or a school bus operator has a “duty to adequately supervise children in its care,” that does not make them “insurers of their students' safety.” A bus operator is only liable for injuries if it has “notice of the specific dangerous conduct so as to render the injury foreseeable, as well as a reasonable opportunity to prevent it.”

Here, the bus driver testified she had no warning about the fight. She was focused on the road and could not see what was taking place through her mirror. It was not until the fight ended and the plaintiff approached her bleeding that she was even aware of the incident.

The Second Department and the Supreme Court agreed with the defendants that the fight was a “sudden and unforeseeable” event. It would be one thing if the alleged assailant had a record of disciplinary problems that was known—or should have been known—to the school district or the bus driver. But the court was satisfied that was not the case here. Nor was there evidence a “lack of supervision” caused the plaintiff's injuries.

Getting the Facts Straight

This is not to say a school district or bus operator can never be held liable for injuries resulting from student-on-student violence. But as the Second Department made clear, there must be evidence the school had some advance warning or knowledge that one student may cause injury to another. This is why it is important, in any personal injury lawsuit, to gather all relevant facts before proceeding to court. If you are considering a personal injury lawsuit, contact aqualified New York accident attorney who can help assess your claim.