Kid jumps from moving school bus. Gets hurt. Sues district.

The suit filed by Idolinda Salinas on behalf of her son was not as silly as it sounds.  When you read that a student jumped out of a moving school bus, I’m guessing that your first reaction is that this one is completely frivolous.  But if you read the entire opinion from the Texas Court of Appeals for Austin, you may change your mind. The court ruled against Ms. Salinas, holding that the district was entitled to immunity.  But the court came to that conclusion only after a careful analysis of some good arguments.

Here’s what Ms. Salinas alleged occurred.  The driver drove past her son’s bus stop. The boy asked the driver to pull over and let him out, but she refused.  The student tried to climb out the window, but that did not work. So he walked to the back of the bus, stood by the exit door for a “significant amount of time” and then opened the back door. This triggered a buzzer, which was designed to alert the driver that someone was trying to open the back door.  The suit alleged that the boy then jumped out and sustained injuries.  The suit alleged that the driver did not see him at the rear of the bus, did not respond to the buzzer, did not see him jump out, and continued to accelerate as he did. Then she saw the boy on the ground, and pulled over.

That’s what was alleged.  Many of those alleged facts would likely be in dispute if the case went to a trial. But it did not go to a trial. The district moved for dismissal of the suit based on its immunity. Under those circumstances, the court is required to treat as true all of the facts as alleged.

So the case presents this question: if a school bus driver negligently fails to supervise the kids, fails to notice that a student is trying to open the rear door, fails to respond to the buzzer that goes off when the rear door is ajar, and fails to see a student actually jump out of the bus, is the school district liable?  The court said “no.”

Texas school districts are liable when a bus driver is negligent in the “use or operation” of the bus and the injury “arises from” that negligence.  Here, the plaintiff accused the driver of negligence in supervising the kids, but not in the “use or operation” of the bus.  Moreover, there was an insufficient “nexus” to show that the injury of the student “arose from” the alleged negligence of the driver. After all, the direct cause of the injury had nothing to do with a buzzer or an open rear door. The direct cause was the jump from a moving vehicle.

We don’t know from this opinion how badly hurt the student was.  However, the court’s final paragraph tells us that the plaintiff “suffered terrible injuries.”  By way of a semi-apology, the court noted that “the legislature has enacted only a narrow waiver of governmental immunity.”  This case failed to make it through that narrow waiver.

The case of Austin ISD v. Salinas was decided by the Third Court of Appeal in Austin on April 14, 2016.  We found it at 2016 WL 1566707.