-> Court of Appeals Decides Case on Duty School Districts Owe Children at Bus Stops
20 May 2014
A recent Court of Appeals case considered whether a school district was liable when a child who was waiting for a school bus was struck by another vehicle. The Court of Appeals decision arises from a 2008 accident, in which a 12-year old special needs student was waiting at his school bus stop. The child’s home fronted a busy state highway, and the child’s bus stop was at the end of the roughly 20-yard driveway connecting her home to the highway. The bus would stop next to a red dumpster which was located on the grass next to the driveway. The child’s mother set guidelines for the child that he could not go past the red dumpster until the bus had arrived.
A day before the accident, the school district re-routed the buses, and the child was assigned to a new bus which would pick him up and drop him off at the same bus stop. On the day of the accident, the bus driver and the student’s monitor on the bus simply forgot to pick up the child as they traveled down the highway. The monitor saw the child standing near the red dumpster as the bus passed. Alerted by the monitor to the missed stop, the bus driver traveled 250 feet or so farther west to a vacant gas station on the corner where the highway intersected with another road. The bus pulled out onto the other side of the highway behind another vehicle. Shortly after the bus re-entered the highway, both the bus driver and the monitor saw what appeared to be debris in front of the vehicle in front of it. That vehicle then pulled to the side of the road, and saw the child, obviously injured on the highway.
The child’s mother alleged that the child told her that he went out into the road, because the bus “forgot her and then they stopped and she looked both ways and she ran” after the bus. The child also testified about the accident at a 50-h hearing and a deposition, where she fairly consistently testified that she saw the bus go by and turn around and that she looked both ways before crossing the road to catch the bus on the other side of the highway. The child’s mother initiated a lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle that struck her child and the school district. The school district moved for summary judgment, arguing that it owed no duty to a student not within its physical care or custody and that in any event its purported negligence was not a proximate cause of the child’s injuries.
The lower court denied the school districts’ motion saying that the child’s status as a special needs child justified an expansion of the school district’s duty. The school district appealed and the Appellate Division concluded that the school districted owed the child a duty and that a question of fact existed as to whether the school district’s alleged negligence was a proximate cause of the child’s accident. The Appellate Division agreed with the school district, however, that lower court should have granted it summary judgment on plaintiff’s claim, as amplified by the bill of particulars, of negligence based on purported violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was granted. The Court of Appeals held that the child, was never within the school district’s physical custody, “or any time- and space-limited area of implied custody and control that may arise once a bus stops and passengers begin to board. Thus, her injuries did not occur during the act of busing itself, broadly construed.” Here, though, neither the bus driver nor the monitor waved at or signaled the child as the bus missed her designated bus stop after turning around. In fact, they did not even see her before the accident.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the school district’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and cross-claims against it should have been granted