Lawsuit Alleged Sufficient Facts for Student to Pursue Negligence Claims Against the District

Arlington Indep. Sch. Dist. v. T.P., No. 02-16-00249-CV, 2017 WL 526311 (Tex. App. Feb. 9, 2017).

The parents of R.T. sued Arlington Independent School District for negligence, alleging that R.T. was injured while a passenger on a district school bus.  The district requested dismissal of the suit, arguing that governmental immunity barred the claims.  The trial court denied the district’s request and the district appealed.

The court of appeals observed that governmental immunity protects political subdivisions such as school districts from lawsuits for money damages unless immunity has been waived.  The Texas Tort Claims Act provides a limited waiver of immunity for personal injuries that are proximately caused by the negligence of an employee acting within the scope of employment if the injuries arise from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle.  To demonstrate a waiver of immunity, there must be a connection between the operation or use of the motor vehicle and the plaintiff’s injuries.  The alleged failure to direct, control, or supervise students on the bus, when the operation of the bus did not actually cause the injuries, will not lead to a waiver of immunity.

The court of appeals determined that the student’s allegations did not involve the mere failure to direct, control, or supervise students.  Instead, the suit alleged that the student sustained injuries and damages when the person driving the school bus that R.T. was riding in brought the bus to an abrupt stop, causing R.T., who was standing in the aisle, to launch forward and to strike her head against the windshield. R.T. testified in her deposition that when the bus started off, the driver was looking in the rear-view mirror instead of where she was driving. The bus driver stated in her affidavit that she suddenly applied the brakes to avoid colliding with another school bus. Taken together, and liberally construing the allegations, the suit claimed that R.T. was thrown into the windshield and injured because the bus driver was not looking where she was driving and had to suddenly apply the brakes to avoid colliding with another bus. Thus, according to the allegations and the evidence, the school bus did not simply furnish the condition that made R.T.’s alleged injuries possible, nor did it merely play some irrelevant tangential role in her alleged injuries; rather, according to the allegations, the district’s operation or use of the school bus actually caused R.T.’s injuries.  Thus, the allegations were sufficient to waive the district’s immunity and the case was allowed to proceed.

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