Every day hundreds of thousands of parents wave goodbye as their children head off to school on a school bus. For some it is by necessity; for others, it is simply convenience. Regardless of the reason, parents entrust their child’s safety to the school bus driver and expect their child to be safely returned to them at the end of the day. But a deadly accident involving a Southern California school bus and a FedEx truck this past April illustrates that sometimes, tragically those students never come back home.
The school bus, which was carrying students and counselors from a Southern California high school to Humboldt State University, was struck by a FedEx truck that jumped the 58-foot center median and landed in northbound traffic. Ten people were killed, including both drivers. The coroner’s office determined that seven of the 10 victims died of smoke inhalation from a post-crash fire; passengers were trapped on the bus, and at least one victim reportedly died helping others escape.
Wrongful Death Claims in School Bus Accidents
As of July, 15 lawsuits had been filed against FedEx and its driver and the bus company by the victim’s families and survivors of the crash. So far no lawsuits have been filed against the bus driver, as it appears that he was not at fault for the accident.
To prevail on a California wrongful death claim, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The death was the result of the defendant’s conduct;
- The defendant was negligent or liable for the death;
- The deceased was survived by a spouse, child or grandchild, and;
- There were monetary damages from the victim’s death.
The bus company is being sued, with plaintiffs claiming that the bus had insufficient emergency exits, which resulted in seven passengers being trapped and caused them to succumb to smoke inhalation and burns sustained in the fire that broke out after impact. If the bus company knew that additional exits would increase the ability of passengers to escape in the face of fire, but chose not to have them installed, they could be found liable for the deaths.
The FedEx driver could be found liable for the victims’ deaths if the plaintiffs can prove he was negligent in his actions or was somehow at fault, for example, if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or had failed to take any required rest breaks. He would not be found liable it is determined that the crash was the result of a mechanical problem with the truck, unless it can be proven that he was aware of the issue but neglected to have it taken care of.
FedEx is being sued under a theory of vicarious liability. This means that, because the driver was performing his official duties as a FedEx employee, FedEx is responsible for his negligent actions. If it is determined that the driver was at fault, FedEx could only escape liability for his actions if they could prove he was on a “frolic” or “detour,” meaning that he had deviated so far from his official duties that he could not be said to be acting on behalf of FedEx at the time. An example would be if the driver had traveled an hour off of his FedEx approved route to visit a friend for dinner.
If an investigation uncovers a mechanical issue with the FedEx truck, then FedEx could be found liable for the victims’ deaths regardless of whether a jury determined that the driver was negligent. As owners of the trucks, FedEx has a responsibility to keep them serviced and in good working condition. Their failure to do so would render them liable for the accident. This would also pave the way for additional lawsuits against whomever serviced the vehicles (and the employer of that mechanic) for failure to properly maintain the vehicles.
Walnut Creek Wrongful Death Attorneys
If your child has been injured or killed in a California school bus accident, call the Appel Law Firm LLP today. With more than 60 years’ combined experience, our wrongful death and personal injury attorneys have the skill, understanding and sensitivity to help you through this difficult time and can help you decide if a lawsuit is right for you. Conveniently located near the Walnut Creek BART station, you can reach us toll-free at 855-262-7735.