Although school buses and drivers are designed and trained to be the safest vehicles and drivers on the road, accidents involving them do occur. The process for handling an accident claim after being hit by a school bus is not the same as the one you would go through when dealing with other types of vehicles, though. There are major differences that can affect your ability to collect compensation for injuries and property damage. Here are two things you need to do after the accident to help you determine the best way to handle the personal injury claim.
Determine If the Driver Works for a Private or Public Entity
It's a given that you should get the name of the driver's employer. However, you'll need to do some research to determine if the person's employer is a privately-owned business or the government. There are two reasons for this.
Bus drivers who work for public schools are considered government employees, since public schools are funded and administered by the state. It's important to understand this because government employees and agencies are often afforded some measure of protection against lawsuits. Depending on where you live, your ability to recover your losses may be severely restricted or you may not be able to sue at all.
For example, Michigan schools and their employees generally cannot be sued for damages unless there was gross negligence involved. This means the school bus driver must have been operating with reckless disregard for safety when the accident occurred. The driver's actions must have been the singular cause of the crash; otherwise, the court may give the employee a pass if there were other factors in play such as bad weather. Even then, you are typically limited to suing the driver involved and cannot expand your lawsuit to include other entities associated with the employee, such as the school board.
Michigan is far from unique in this regard, as schools are protected in a similar fashion in many states. If lawsuits aren't prohibited altogether, the amount of money a person can collect is severely limited. In Georgia, for instance, you can sue the school if it has liability insurance for its drivers. However, you can only collect up to the policy limit. If your damages amount to $1 million but the school's policy only covers $500,000, you can only get $500,000. You won't be able to go after the school for the remaining balance.
Another reason why you need to determine if the driver works for the government or not is because the government has specific procedures plaintiffs must follow before they can file a lawsuit for damages. Typically, you will be required to file a claim with the school first within 30 to 120 days, depending on the location, and failure to do so can result in you losing the right to sue. The school then has a certain amount of time to consider whether or not to approve your claim.
Only until after the school denies your claim or fails to respond within the time limit can you file a suit for damages in civil court. Most states have a statute of limitations that restricts how long you have from the date of the accident to file a suit, which is as little as one year in some areas, so you have to act quickly.
Find Out If There Were Other Injuries
The second thing you need to do after an accident with a bus is find out if other people sustained losses and how badly those losses were. While the bus driver may be covered by auto insurance, the insurance provider will only pay out to the policy's limit regardless of the number of claims submitted.
For instance, if the policy limit is $2 million per incident, the insurance company will only pay $2 million worth of damages for everyone involved in that particular accident. If one person's damages amounts to $1.5 million, that only leaves $500,000 for everyone else who was hurt or sustained property damage.
If you find out someone was severely injured in the accident and you suspect those injuries may amount to millions of dollars in damages, then you'll want to get your claim submitted as soon as possible to increase the odds it'll get paid before the insurance limit is maxed out.
Getting into an accident with a school bus is more complex that it would first appear. A car accident attorney can guide you on the best way to handle your case, so it's essential that you give one a call and learn more after getting into a collision with a school bus.