In early June, Minot kicked off a new program intended to increase safety for school children. Mostly funded by the federal and state government, the “Safe Routes to School” project intends to add new structures like new concrete sidewalks, accessible pedestrian ramps, and curbs while the children enjoy their summer break.
According to KFYR TV, the project is expected to conclude by August 19. Jesse Berg, a Public Works Project Manager, states that a recent study surrounding the different routes to Minot elementary schools helped to prioritize which locations needed new infrastructures.
The project will include “new concrete sidewalks, accessible pedestrian ramps, curbs, and gutters,” and will be accessible to all, with Berg noting that “A.D.A. ramps aren’t just for people in wheelchairs and that it’s for everyone so it’s easier for young moms to push or young dads to push their stroller and get onto the sidewalk.”
The new Safe Routes to School project is a great way to protect children from getting hurt on the way to school. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “in the 10-year period from 2010 to 2019 there have been 1,199 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes—an average of 120 fatalities per year.” More than two-thirds of the victims (69%) were occupants of other vehicles, and more than half (54%) were age 19 or older. Of the 109 people who were killed in school transportation accidents in 2019, 30 were pedestrians.
Pick-up and drop off accidents in ND school zones
School zones are created with the intention of regulating the flow of traffic for parents. They’re designed to ensure that children are picked up and dropped off safely from school. However, school zone accidents in the pick-up and drop off areas still happen, with unsafe driving behaviors accounting for the majority. When drivers engage in dangerous behaviors like stopping in a crosswalk, or not stopping at all, children can end up getting hurt.
How common are school bus accidents?
Thankfully, school bus accidents are rare, and bus drivers and passengers are among the safest travelers there are. The National Safety Council (NSC) reported that 54 people nationwide were killed in school bus-related accidents during 2020, but only two of them were actually on the bus. This does not mean, however, that a child (or a driver) cannot be injured in a collision. School bus accidents can happen when a driver engages in behaviors like drowsy driving, aggressive driving, failing to yield, or driving while under the influence. Your child can suffer from concussions, back injuries, shoulder injuries, lacerations, and soft tissue injuries.
Who can be held liable for my child’s accident?
It can be very difficult not to see red after your child has been injured. You may feel the school district that you trusted to protect your child has seriously dropped the ball. After your child has suffered harm, there are several parties that you can hold liable, and our Minot attorneys can help guide you in this process.
When your child has been hurt in a school zone car accident, you can file a lawsuit against the other driver. Chances are that the other driver was engaging in negligent behavior and seriously injured your child as a result. In a school zone accident, you would proceed as you would with any car accident. Exchange information with the other driver, collect any photos or video evidence of the scene, and seek out the contact information of any witnesses.
Why liability for school bus accidents can be complicated
As we have discussed before, school districts are considered political subdivisions. As such, if your child is injured on a public school bus, it’s not North Dakota that is liable; it’s the political subdivision. Under North Dakota Century Code 32-12.1-03:
Each political subdivision is liable for money damages for injuries when the injuries are proximately caused by the negligence or wrongful act or omission of any employee acting within the scope of the employee’s employment or office under circumstances in which the employee would be personally liable to a claimant in accordance with the laws of this state, or injury caused from some condition or use of tangible property, real or personal, under circumstances in which the political subdivision, if a private person, would be liable to the claimant.
In short, you cannot sue the bus driver or the state, but you can file a claim against the subdivision. As of June 2022, damages are capped at $375,000 per person OR $1,000,000 per incident, and subdivisions cannot be held liable for punitive damages. These awards increase each year until 2027.
What happens if my child is injured on a school bus at a private school?
There are a significant number of private and religious schools in North Dakota, especially when you count childcare centers and preschools. The rules governing private and religious schools are different because they are not considered political subdivisions. As such, you may be able hold the school and/or the bus driver liable for negligence – unless your child takes a public school bus.
Under N.D.C.C. 15.1-30-15, a public school district may provide transportation to nonpublic school students under certain conditions. If this is the case – if your child is transported to a private or religious school on a public school bus – then the rules regarding political subdivisions apply, as do the damage caps. If your child’s school has hired the transportation company, or if he or she takes private transportation, then you can likely file a lawsuit directly against the driver.
Filing a claim for your child’s school accident can be complex. When your child has been hurt on the way to school, a personal injury lawyer can make the process easier and alleviate the stress. A Minot personal injury lawyer can handle all of the steps of the process while you focus on your child’s recovery.
At Larson Law Firm, we know the toll that a Minot school accident can take on your child. We use our resources to carefully investigate your child’s accident and our skills to aggressively fight for just compensation. Call us today at 701-484-HURT, or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We have additional offices in Bismarck and Fargo for your convenience.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson