by Amy S. York, Esq. and Gregory S. Porter
Every fall, millions of children return to school and most of those ride a school bus to get there. We’ve all been stuck behind a school bus, waiting (im)patiently as it slows, lights flashing, stop-sign swinging out, to let little Janie and Johnny climb aboard, hoping and praying that the bus turns off the next intersection so you can get to work on time!
Imagine: You’ve overslept, spilled coffee on your shirt, and have a big presentation in front of your boss this morning. There simply isn’t time for the added stress of being behind a school bus. Watching little Sally hug her mom for the third time and do pirouettes onto the bus is maddening. Your blood pressure is rising, your head is pounding, and all you can think about is that you are going to be late LAte LATE! The temptation of passing the bus is strong – if you can just make it past this inconvenient obstacle, you will be on time! You’ll get this day behind you, impress your boss, maybe even get a promotion! All you have to do is squeeze past this mobile headache and be on your way!
And really, what’s to dissuade you? The law? Hardly. In Texas, a driver traveling on an undivided highway that passes a school bus with its red lights flashing is subject to a fine of $500 to $1,250. Compare this meager $500 fine to the same fine imposed for simply sitting on a sidewalk in Galveston. What’s worse is that reporting a violation and providing the offending vehicle’s license plate is ineffective: “A police officer has to see the incident occur and be able to identify the driver behind the wheel.”
With such lax laws in place to prevent people from discounting school bus safety, it is no wonder that so many accidents occur. CNN reported just last fall that 5 children had been killed in only 3 days while waiting for school buses.
As a parent, it is overwhelming to imagine this happening to you. Not only does your heart ache to imagine your child injured, but medical bills will pile up with missed work to stay with the child at the hospital or deliver her to her doctor and therapy appointments. How will you make ends meet?
If the driver can be identified and located, then a personal injury suit can certainly be brought against him. But what responsibility does the school system bear? The answer may well be: none.
In Texas, school districts are immune from liability for personal injuries under the Texas Tort Claims Act under most circumstances. In other words, most of the time a plaintiff cannot recover from a school district on a negligence claim. In order to break through this immunity, a plaintiff must show that the injury was the result of a school employee’s negligent act of using or operating a motor vehicle. “If the employee’s act involved only supervision or control, immunity has not been waived, even if the act took place on or near the motor vehicle.”
Texas courts have attempted to explain what actions constitute negligent use of motor vehicle and what actions constitute negligent supervision of children. Courts have held that where the bus driver failed to activate the flashing lights, left a child at the wrong bus stop, or stopped at an undesignated stop and activated his flashing lights immunity was waived because the driver was using or operating a motor vehicle. Similar incidents, however, including a separate incident of leaving a child at the wrong stop, leaving a sleeping child alone on a bus for several hours, or leaving a child by the side of the road were held to be only negligent supervision and insufficient to waive immunity.
Amy S. York is an attorney and guest-blogger for Dobbs & Porter, PLLC.
 Tex. Transp. Code § 545.066.
 Galveston City Ordinance § 24-17, https://galveston-tx.elaws.us/code/coor_ch24_sec24-17 (last visited Sept. 26, 2019).
 https://www.khou.com/article/news/local/texas-law-passing-stopped-school-bus/285-5bb43add-123d-4672-bd29-89296a964d2b (last visited Sept. 26, 2019).
 https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/02/us/school-bus-accident-5-times-3-days/index.html (last visited Sept. 26, 2019).
 Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 101.021(1)(A), .051.
 See Austin Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Gutierrez, 54 S.W.3d 860, 863 (Tex. App. – Austin 2001, pet. denied).
 Hitchcock v. Garvin, 738 S.W.2d 34 (Tex. App. – Dallas 1987, no writ).
 Contreras v. Lufkin Indep. Sch. Dist., 810 S.W.2d 23 (Tex. App. – Beaumont 1991, writ denied).
 La Joya Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Gonzalez, 532 S.W.3d 892 (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi 2017, pet. denied).
 Dallas County Schs. v.Vallet, No. 05-16-00385-CV, 2016 Tex. App. LEXIS 13099 (Tex. App. – Dallas Dec. 7, 2016, no pet.).
 Elgin Indep. Sch. Dist. v. R.N., 191 S.W.3d 263 (Tex. App. – Austin 2006, no pet.).
 Mt. Pleasant Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Estate of Lindburg, 766 S.W.2d 208 (Tex. 1989).