Use of school buses for non-school related activities.
The use of school buses for non-school related activities can represent an increased exposure for both the bus driver and the school district. Consistent with all automobile insurance policies, coverage is provided for the driver and the school district. Passengers, including students, are not covered persons. Passengers, if injured, have no recourse except a direct suit against the district and/or the driver. Even though the current coverage does not specifically exclude this type of activity, awareness of relevant issues can help the ISD make a better decision.
In Texas, school districts enjoy immunity as outlined by the Texas Tort Claims Act. For automobile coverage, this includes a liability cap of $100,000/$300,000 per person/accident for bodily injury claims, and $100,000 for property damage claims. The use of a school bus outside of school related activities may defeat this immunity and subject the ISD and the driver to expanded liabilities. Common carriers (carriers for hire) are subject to ‘a high degree of care’. Bus drivers are not held to that highest level of care. The district and driver may be held liable for injuries that occur not related to the operation of the bus, such as negligent supervision. While driving a bus on school business, the driver has immunity for everything except negligent operation of the bus.
One of the main reasons that school buses have a good loss history is based on the fact that the drivers assigned to a bus have an intimate knowledge of the route they take, the bus they are driving, and the students are subject to the rules of the district. If a bus is loaned, even with a district driver to another entity, they immediately lose the advantage of knowing in detail the route and may also lose the advantage of driving ‘their’ bus. The people being transported are not under the same rules as the students of the district when being picked up or taken home - inappropriate behavior has no consequences for them. While there may be monitors on the buses, they are not trained in bus safety and may or may not recognize a potentially hazardous activity.
If an ISD chooses to provide this service, these steps can help reduce the chance of financial loss:
- The designated driver should review the route and take a test run in the bus to be used
- Avoid driving at dusk or night time
- Maintain a minimum of two (2) monitors at all times
- Obtain a hold harmless agreement from all parties
- Increase auto liability limits to a minimum of $1,000,000 per accident