Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a school bus driver who, against district policy, advised students to cross a busy road in the dark before the bus arrived at their stop each morning. One of those students was struck by a car while crossing the street early one morning before school.
According to court records in Davis v. Baez, plaintiff was an 18-year-old senior in high school in the Miami-Dade County school district. She was hit by a car while she was crossing from the west side of the street to get to the east side of the street, where her school bus stop was located. It was 5:50 a.m., so it was still dark, and the bus hadn’t yet arrived. Plaintiff suffered severe injuries as a result of the collision.
Her 16-year-old brother, who also waited at the stop with her, had already safely crossed by that point. But both children had previously been instructed by the school bus driver that they needed to cross the busy street – from the west side to the east side – to be waiting for him on the east side before he arrived. If they weren’t already on that side of the street when he pulled up, the driver told them, he would leave without them.
School districts are generally responsible for mapping out safe bus stops and safe routes for students to commute to school. However, that doesn’t mean every time a student is injured at a bus stop or on their way to school that the district can be liable. The primary issue in this pedestrian injury case is that the driver flouted school policy in instructing the students to cross the street before he got there.
As the busing supervisor explained during deposition, it is the policy of the district to have students wait on the safe side of the street until the bus arrives. At that time, the bus can deploy its flashing lights and stop sign arm and allow students to cross safely. This instruction was reportedly issued by the driver of his own initiative, despite the district policy. The school’s transportation administrator, his immediate supervisor and other bus drivers affirmed this.
Plaintiff filed a pedestrian injury lawsuit against the district and the driver, alleging the district failed in its duty to establish and review bus stops and oversee its driver and the driver failed in his duty to follow proper, safe procedure.
The trial court dismissed the claims against the school district, finding they were barred by sovereign immunity.
The trial court later granted summary judgment to defendant driver, finding he was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the incident and further, the driver hadn’t acted with willful or wanton disregard for the girl’s safety, and therefore he was entitled to sovereign immunity.
The 3rd DCA reversed. The reason was because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the driver acted outside the scope of his employment (by disobeying district policy) and also whether his actions showed total disregard for the student’s well-being. Both of these, if proven, would overcome any protection the driver would have under state sovereign immunity laws. Because these issues are both matters of fact that need to be weighed by a jury, the appeals court remanded back to the lower court for trial.
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Davis v. Baez, Nov. 9, 2016, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
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