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Adapted from Vicki Cronis-Nohe | The Virginian-Pilot -- https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/pilotonline.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/5/55/55578b69-a956-5a91-afde-3d858d9daaf6/58c424a6ce7ac.image.jpg?resize=750%2C465Getting hit and hurt by an HRT bus or a public school bus raises a host of legal difficulties that most traffic accident victims will not encounter. Receiving an injury or wrongful death settlement is still possible, but partnering with a dedicated and knowledgeable Virginia plaintiff’s attorney will greatly increases the chances for obtaining that positive outcome.

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The greatest obstacle to a personal injury or wrongful death claim following a crash caused by a public bus driver goes by the name of sovereign immunity. This common law principal that is traditionally stated as “the king can do no wrong,” essentially allows government agencies and transportation districts or boards like HRT to reject lawsuits.

Virginia’s sovereign immunity statute specifically exempts city, county and state employees who are doing their jobs from civil lawsuits unless evidence exists that the person acted with gross negligence. The state’s Supreme Court defines gross negligence as “indifference to another and an utter disregard or prudence that amounts to a complete neglect of the safety of such other person.”

That is a high bar to clear. Proof that a public bus driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, intending to do harm or driving with a manager’s knowledge despite being disqualified from doing so could meet the standard for being deemed gross negligence.

Agencies and transportation districts lose their sovereign immunity when evidence exists to show that its executives or managers violated a law or regulation in a way that led to a person’s injury or death. For instance, failing to ensure a bus driver was properly licensed could make a transit bus line liable.

Challenges to sovereign immunity must also be filed very soon after a public bus or school bus crash. Separate from the usual 2-year statute of limitations that applies to personal injury and wrongful death claims in Virginia, government agencies and transportation boards must be notified of the intent to file insurance claims or a lawsuit within 6 months of a bus crash.

A school board is the one type of government entity in Virginia that is not covered by strong sovereign immunity protections. A victim of a merely negligent public school bus driver can seek compensation and monetary damages from a school board just as the injured person would against a trucking company. Proving that the bus driver did something wrong such as following too closely or failing to yield right of way to cause a crash and inflict harm is still necessary, but a school board does not have the right to simply deny liability out of hand.

EJL

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