Isn’t it a pain in the butt when you have gotten out of your car and then discover that, for some reason, you have to get back in and pull up a foot or so? I hate it when that happens, but sometimes it’s pretty important that we get the vehicle exactly where it belongs.
A school bus driver pulled the bus into the driveway to pick up the students after school, but stopped about a foot short of the mark. If there had been no students who needed extra help this would have been a non-event. But there was a wheelchair bound student. Because the bus stopped a foot short, the mechanical lift was blocked by a metal pole. The driver got out of the bus to help the kids load up and was told by another school employee that he ought to pull the bus up just a bit. He chose not to, thinking that he could save time by simply lifting the boy and wheelchair into the bus.
Nope. The student tumbled out of the chair, face first, hitting the stairs of the bus. Ouch.
The school district’s defense to the lawsuit was that the student’s injury, unfortunate though it was, did not arise from the “use or operation” of a motor vehicle, but rather, from the bad decision of a bus driver. Schools are liable for the negligent “use or operation” of a bus, but not for other types of bad decisions by the driver. Therefore, the school asserted its immunity and argued that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
Sometimes I run fact situations like this by Mrs. Dawg. I like to get an opinion about the meaning of words from a smart woman with a good vocabulary that has not been contaminated by legal training. So I described the facts, and asked her: do you think this injury was caused by the “use or operation” of a motor vehicle? Or was the bus just the location where the injury occurred?
She opined that the student’s injury was attributable to the “use or operation” of the bus, thus aligning herself with the 6th Court of Appeals for Texas. The court refused to dismiss the case. It’s Hallsville ISD v. Garcia, decided by the Court of Appeals on December 17, 2020.
So let the bus drivers know about this one. Don’t shortcut it. That mechanical lift is attached to the bus for a reason. Park the bus where the lift can be used, even if that means getting back in after you’ve gotten out.
DAWG BONE: NOT ONLY WILL THAT PREVENT A LAWSUIT. MORE IMPORTANTLY, IT MIGHT PREVENT AN INJURY.