This morning, students, parents, and other sympathetic Paramus residents laid flowers on a make-shift memorial outside of East Brook Middle School. It was a somber tribute to a teacher and student who were killed when their school bus collided with a dump truck on Interstate 80 in Mount Olive. The impact of the crash, reportedly, ripped the front of the bus from its chassis and tipped it on its side, leaving gym shoes, clothing, water bottles, and snack bags strewn about the grassy median.

The Paramus Board of Education-owned bus was carrying 38 fifth-grade students and six chaperones on an end-of-the-year field trip to Waterloo Village, a restored 19th-century canal town in Sussex County. All passengers on the bus, its driver, and the driver of the dump truck were taken to area hospitals to be treated for a variety of injuries. The tragic crash is being investigated by State Police, the Morris County prosecutor’s office, and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Unsubstantiated reports say that the bus driver had missed his exit and was attempting an illegal U-turn at the time of the accident. The dump truck’s license plate indicates that it is owned by a Belleville trucking company whose vehicles have been involved in eight accidents over the last two years.

Liability in a School Bus Accident

When we send our precious children off to school, we trust that they will be safely returned to us at the end of the day. When this doesn’t happen, someone needs to be held accountable. But who can be held liable for a school bus accident in New Jersey? Liability depends on a number of factors, making each case unique.

Schools are responsible for the health and safety of students when they are in the classroom, on school grounds, on a school bus, and while on a field trip. This means that, ultimately, a school district may be held liable for a student injured while on a school bus. But, other parties may also be partially to blame.

Many school districts operate their own buses, and may therefore be liable when an accident occurs. Other school districts contract private bus companies for student transportation. In such a case, the private contractor may be held liable. That said, the school district is responsible for hiring the private bus company, researching its safety history and policies, and detailing the private contractors’ responsibilities in terms of student care.

If it’s determined that a bus’s driver caused the accident, such as by driving recklessly or being impaired, the driver can be held liable; and his employer (either the school district or the private contractor) can be held vicariously liable. Other possible liable parties include:

  • The driver of another vehicle, if he or she caused the accident.
  • The manufacturer of the bus, if a flaw in the vehicle’s design or construction caused the accident.
  • The manufacturer of a part of the bus, such as the tires, brakes, or seatbelts, if they contributed to the injury or accident.
  • The government entity charged with designing and maintaining the roadway. For instance, if a pothole or malfunctioning traffic signal contributed to the accident, the responsible entity could be held liable.

It is truly horrific any time a child is injured or killed. When that injury or death was caused by negligence, and was therefore preventable, it only compounds the tragedy. While we at Princeton’s Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., hope your children stay safe and you never need our services, we are only a phone call away if you need us.

The firm’s principals, Gabriel R. Lependorf and David E. Silverstein, have each been representing injured victims in the State of New Jersey for over thirty years.

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