A parent’s worst nightmare, “Mom we were in a car accident”. Thirty-four parents received that call Tuesday when the bus carrying T.H. Harris Middle School’s track team plunged into the canal. According to WGNO, three students were taken to a local hospital complaining of minor injuries after a Jefferson Parish School bus driver careened into a canal. After the accident, students were forced to exit the bus through windows and the back door. While no reports have been issued stating the school bus driver was impaired, the school bus driver was cited for careless operation by local authorities.
Unfortunate events like this school bus accident occur all too often. Parents and children are left with the visible and invisible injuries. Some parents are up in arms about the numerous open canals along bus routes, but one of the overarching concerns is whether school bus drivers are receiving effective and adequate driving training.
Accidents are never easy, but when employees are in the course and scope of their employment, their employers are liable for damages. According to Louisiana Civil Code Article 2320, masters and employers are answerable for the damage occasioned by their servants and overseers, in the exercise of the functions in which they are employed. See full text of Article 2320 here. Our previous blog entry on the theory of Respondeat Superior is a great guide explaining the concept.
Determining whether an employee is in the course and scope of their employment is not always easy and is often a mixed question of law and fact. As a general rule whether an employee is in the course and scope of their employment is decided on a case by case basis and Louisiana law uses a multi-factor test when assessing the issue. According to the landmark case, Bourgeois v. Allstate Ins. Co., when determining whether the employer is liable for the acts of an employee, the following factors must be considered:
Whether the employee’s actions were:
(1) primarily employment rooted;
(2) reasonably incidental to the performance of the employee’s duties;
(3) occurred on the employer’s premises; and
(4) occurred during hours of employment.
All factors do not have to be met in order to find liability – the analysis is more of a balancing test. Additionally, even if the main objective of the employee is to benefit himself, it does not prevent the employee from being found to be acting in the course and scope of employment.
In the school bus collision, many factors must be taken into consideration. Some factors to consider are: whether the school bus driver was acting in furtherance of Jefferson Parish School System, whether the performance of the bus driver’s duties in transporting student athletes was reasonably incidental to the performance of her duties and whether the accident occurred during hours of employment. Our initial legal analysis is that even though the school bus accident did not occur on the employer’s premises, the school bus driver will still be found to be acting in the course and scope of her employment, thus rendering Jefferson Parish School System liable for any injuries the student athletes received as a result of the accident. Another important factor to consider when assessing Jefferson Parish School System’s liability is whether the school bus driver was properly vetted during the hiring process and whether adequate training was provided. Assuming neither of these are true, Jefferson Parish School System could also be liable for negligent hiring and/or negligent training and supervision.
Louisiana has made great strides in hopes of keeping school bus riders safe, including banning the use of handheld and hands-free devices for all bus drivers, as well as requiring seat belts on all school buses. While these are strides in the right direction, parents must feel the person tasked with transporting their children to and from school are qualified and properly trained. It is the duty to the respective school systems to adequately train their bus drivers, and failure to do so could subject the school systems to legal liability.
If you have been injured by someone who was working at the time of the accident, you may be allowed to file suit against both the employee and employer. The specific facts of each case play a major factor in determining an employer’s liability for the acts of their employees. There are many difficult questions that need to be answered in deciding whether an employer will be legally liable if you are injured by one of their employees. These difficult questions are best suited for the experienced personal injury attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm. If you have question regarding employer liability or a bus accident – Phone Cardone at 504-522-3333 or fill out our online contact form to receive quick feedback.