Bus Rider Can Sue School Board, Not Board Employees
Published: May 17, 2011
Tags: Judge Samuel G. Wilson, Negligence, U.S. District Court – Western District
A Roanoke U.S. District Court says a man suing for injuries he received as a teenager when he exited a school bus and was struck by a driver who failed to heed the bus driver’s signals to stop, can sue the school board but not the bus driver and the three school board employees who planned the bus driver, who all have immunity.
Plaintiff alleges he was riding the bus home after dark, from a school activity. As the driver neared the stop closest to plaintiff’s home along a curve, he requested the driver to drop him off on the opposite side of the highway. Although substitute drivers had occasionally done so at plaintiff’s request in the past, defendant driver refused. She activated the bus’s warning devices, stopped and plaintiff exited. As he crossed the highway, he was struck by a pickup truck driven by defendant Charlie Moore, who had failed to heed the school bus warning lights. Plaintiff received severe and permanent injuries.
Under Va. Code § 22.1-194, plaintiff may sue if school board has an insurance policy on “a vehicle involved in an accident.” Here, the school board admits its school bus was covered by an insurance policy. The court turns to § 22.1-194’s “involved in an accident” in the context of the statute. Although the Virginia Supreme Court has not expressly defined the meaning of the term “involved in an accident” in the context of § 22.1-194, it has provided implicit guidance as to its meaning, and that guidance counsels that the school bus from which plaintiff alighted was “involved in” plaintiff’s accident and the school board is not immune from suit here.
Plaintiff also sues the school bus driver who refused to make a turn in order to drop plaintiff off on the side of the road where his home was located. The court agrees with defendant bus driver that she has sovereign immunity as plaintiff has not pleaded facts to support his claim that she was grossly negligent. The bus driver stopped at the designated place along her route and activated the bus’s warning lights. Defendant was operating the bus for a governmental purpose, and not as a part of a routine errand. She was performing a discretionary, non-ministerial, governmental function and is immune from claims for ordinary negligence.
The court also dismisses plaintiff’s complaint against the three school board employees who planned the bus route. There is nothing that remotely suggests the three employees did not exercise discretion in planning the school bus route. They are entitled to immunity for ordinary negligence in planning that route. Though plaintiff alleges the stop was not located where the bus could be seen for a safe distance in both directions, as required by the board’s own regulations, there is nothing in his complaint suggesting the three defendant route planners considered the stop to be unsafe. Even the failure of a government official to follow all applicable regulations does not necessarily mean the official’s conduct was grossly negligent.
The court denies the school board’s motion to dismiss, but grants the remaining defendants’ motions to dismiss.
Roach v. Botetourt County School Board (Wilson) No. 7:10cv00378, Dec. 29, 2010; USDC at Roanoke, Va. VLW 011-3-018, 12 pp.