Ohio Supreme Court Considers School Bus Drivers Responsibility
The Ohio Supreme Court went on the road this week to Mansfield. About 500 local high school students listened in on a case which touches on their own behaviors on school buses.
The court heard oral arguments today (Wed) on whether school bus drivers are liable for injuries suffered by students who do not go straight home after leaving the vehicle.
Is the bus driver liable if they are hurt in a traffic accident?
School districts generally have immunity from civil lawsuits but one exception is when an employee negligently operates a motor vehicle while in the scope of her employment.
At issue in this case -- 6 year old Amber Salee, a first grader in the small Village of Cleves outside Cincinnati, was struck by a car after getting off a bus. State law says that the bus driver must not move the bus until a child goes to a safe place on the side of the street where they live. In this case Amber ran down the street to a friend’s house and the driver moved on. Justice Terrence O’Donnell asked just how much does a driver have to do. Attorney Dennis Mahoney, representing Amber’s mother, said whatever it takes..
MAHONEY/ “Previously kindergarteners and first-graders were not allowed off the bus unless a parent was present.”
O’DONNEL “Does a bus driver have to wait 10 minutes or 15 minutes until a child decides to cross in your view?
MAHONEY “In my view yes. “
The attorney for the school district said it was absurd to follow the law so literally that the driver would wait indefinitely. Several justices noted the state law was not well written. Part of the case will hinge on whether the court decides that moving the bus led to the accident. Mahoney said the case will have to go back to the trial court to determine whether the driver was actually negligent.
“This case is here because you have a chance to once and for all say that is an operation of a motor vehicle- getting a child to the resident’s side of the street. If the state legislature wants to change it at that point, let ‘em.”
The school district argues the driver may be negligent of supervision, which is not subject to damages, but not negligent in the operation of the vehicle.