Types of Claims Which Can Be Made In New Jersey School Bus Accidents
Top 5 Legal Claims Made in NJ School Bus Accident Cases
Although school bus accident deaths are rare, these kinds of accidents cause thousands of injuries to children each year. While most injuries are not serious, many children suffer serious, life-altering injuries or may be killed in bus accidents. When serious injuries occur, the laws of New Jersey provide a legal remedy so that injured children can obtain compensation to help with significant future needs. In cases of death, New Jersey law allows wrongful death or survival claims to be made.
Here are the top 5 kinds of legal claims which can be made in serious bus accident cases in New Jersey:
5. Negligence claims against drivers: This kind of claim is almost always made in school bus accident cases where the bus was involved in an accident caused by another driver or drivers. Common actions which constitute negligence in bus accident cases include using a cell phone while driving, failing to observe traffic signals, speeding or otherwise being careless. However, claims against drivers are not the only type of claim which can be made. Most serious school bus accidents are due to any number of factors including driver negligence, defective products and/or government agency liability.
4. Negligence claims against school bus operators/owners: Bus operators/drivers may be employed by a school. Alternatively they may be independent contractors or they may be employed by a school bus operating company. If a school bus driver commits negligence which causes an accident, the driver's employer may be held liable for the accident. Depending on the situation, a school or bus operating company may also be liable for any number of reasons, including failure to train, failure to supervise, negligent hiring, etc.
3. Negligence/product liability claims against school bus manufacturers: All product manufacturers, distributors and retailers are required to make and sell products which are reasonably safe for their intended uses, and school buses are no exception. School buses must be manufactured in such a way as to withstand normal wear and tear as well as accidents. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires that school buses be manufactured in accordance with various requirements relating to side impact protection, roll over protection, joint body strength and more.
2. Negligence/product liability claims against school bus seat belt manufacturers: The NHTSA requires seat belt use on smaller (under 10,000 pounds) buses, but does not require them on the larger buses which are commonly used as school buses. However, New Jersey Stat. Ann. § 39:3B-10 and § 39:3B-11 require seat belts on all school buses and relieve bus owners and operators of liability if a child fails to wear a seat belt and if that failure leads to an injury. Five other states require seat belts in school buses: California, Florida, Louisiana, New York and Texas. If a school bus seat belt malfunctions and leads to an injury or death, the seat belt manufacturer may be liable under a negligence or products liability theory. In addition, there may be similar claims against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of any other component parts, such as tires or school bus seats.
1. Negligence claims against a government agency: Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, government agencies are not generally liable for failing to provide ordinary traffic signals, signs, markings or other similar traffic control devices.
However, government agencies can be liable for dangerous conditions of property, so long as the following elements are met:
a. the property was in a dangerous condition at the time of the injury, b. the condition caused the injury, c. the condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the type of injury that occurred, and d. either the agency created the condition or had actual or constructive notice of the condition at a sufficient time prior to the injury to have taken corrective measures.
In addition to these elements, the agency must have acted in such a way as to constitute "palpable unreasonableness". See Vincitore v. N.J. Sports & Exposition Auth.
Some common roadway condition defects which may be actionable include:
slope, gradient defects,
roadway design defects, or
intersection design defects.
In serious bus accident cases involving death or catastrophic injury, proper accident reconstruction is vital, especially where multiple factors led to an accident. Even if government agencies conduct accident reconstructions, it is always best to have a private accident reconstruction performed by the right experts.