6. Try to determine the student’s position at impact
What was the student’s seating position at the time of the bus collision? Actual seating position at the moment of collision will determine if the child was inside or outside the compartmentalization envelope. If he or she was outside the compartmentalization envelope, liability may be reduced. If anyone can testify as to whether the student was compartmentalized, this information could be useful during the trial.
7. Review any videotaped evidence closely
Was the accident caught on videotape? Footage of the bus interior taken during the actual crash is like DNA evidence in a criminal trial — it can lead to a jury quickly finding against the plaintiff or the plaintiff withdrawing its lawsuit and settling out of court.
Even for minor accidents, videotape archiving should be routine. Though your school district may have the technology to alter the videotape to blur students’ faces, do not modify the original videotape in any way lest the plaintiff’s attorney claim that you have altered the evidence.
8. Make copies of crash videotapes
There’s no excuse for losing videotape of an accident, especially if videotaping was done on other buses at that same date and time. The “missing videotape” is an invalid argument and a poor defense that is comparable to former President Nixon’s missing minutes of audiotape. Transfer videotape footage of any reported bus accidents to digital format on a hard disk, no matter how minor.
9. Don’t invoke FERPA to shield videotapes
Do you invoke the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 to shelter bus occupant videotape from legal access in litigation or from private access by means of the Freedom of Information Act? This defense will not work when a subpoena is issued by the court.
10. Avoid immediate student release to parents
Do you release students involved in a bus crash to their parents at the accident site? You shouldn’t. Don’t release any student to his or her parents until the first responders have completed triage and authorized emergency transport for those needing critical care.
11. Obtain student medical injury assessments
Every child involved in a bus collision should be brought to the emergency room if there is any suspicion or evidence that they are injured. Some districts have a policy that all students on a special-needs bus are taken to the emergency room for an injury assessment, or they are taken directly back to school for an on-duty school nurse assessment.
12. Always follow up with students and parents
Did you express genuine sympathy to the parents and the student? Personal visits to the emergency room and hospital bedside and phone contact with parents are courtesies that should always be extended. Unless they’re injured themselves, bus drivers, attendants and supervisors should visit students and parents at first opportunity and during the healing process.
Dr. Ray Turner is an accident reconstructionist, special-needs transportation authority, expert witness and author of numerous books and newsletters. For more information, e-mail him at [email protected] or visit www.whitebuffalopress.com.