$40 Million Lawsuit Filed Over ‘Dangerous’ School Bus Stop

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Image of first responders at the scene of the Oct. 2016 accident via Clark County Fire & Rescue.

Two horrific accidents that took place at a “dangerous” school bus stop were caused by neglect of industry best practices, the plaintiff’s attorneys argue in a recently-filed lawsuit.

A bus stop in Battle Ground, Washington was the scene of two serious accidents mentioned in the complaint filed on Sept. 26. Justin Carey was hit and thrown by a car while waiting at the stop in June 2013 and “suffered severe injury, including a mid-knee amputation of his right leg.” Eleven-year-old Elizabeth Smith was crossing the road when she was struck and killed last October.

Battle Ground School District, Clark County Public Works Department, school bus contractors Petermann Northwest LLC and Cascade Student Transportation, and the two motorists who hit the students are being sued for damages amounting to $40 million.

Parent and student responsibilities are areas of concern brought to light by this situation. While waiting for the school bus at his usual time and place, Carey was hit by a driver who “negligently veered off the roadway and struck” him, the lawsuit states. Smith, on the other hand, had crossed the road to talk to some friends and was walking back across the road to the bus stop when she was struck and killed by a driver whom the lawsuit says, “failed to use reasonable care under the circumstances.”  

However, the National Congress of School Transportation maintains in its National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures manual that students should also be taught to wait at the bus stop in an orderly manner and to avoid “horseplay.” If students ever need to cross the road to board the bus, they should wait until the bus has come to a complete stop and the driver has motioned that it is safe to cross, the manual says.

Additionally, the national specifications state that parents or guardians “shall be responsible and accountable for the conduct and safety of their children at all times prior to the arrival and after the departure of the school bus at the assigned school bus stop.” Smith was at the stop with her younger sister.  

Another area in which best practice was allegedly not followed was in the distance students were instructed to stand back from the bus stop. Students at the Battle Ground bus stop normally waited 10 feet from the bus stop in question and were not told by agents of the district or bus contractor to stand farther away, alleges the complaint. However, the NCST manual recommends students be “informed and repeatedly reminded” to stand a distance of 12 feet from a bus stop.

This is the second piece of news this month about an unsafe bus stop potentially costing school districts or contractors millions of dollars. STN reported earlier this month on the jury ruling that a school bus contractor pay $36 million to a student who was hit while crossing to her bus at an unsafe stop that was never reported by the drivers.

The Battle Ground bus stop, the complaint states, was also at an intersection “known by the community to be dangerous.” It explains that “the bus stop is located on the slope of a blind hill,” has no light or stop sign, sees passing motorists regularly going above the posted speed limit of 50 MPH and does not allow approaching drivers or pedestrians to see very far.

The complaint says that the district and school bus company contracts require the school bus operator be “responsible for proposing and recommending bus routes and bus stop locations,” while the school district “was responsible for giving final approval of the stops and routes.”

The complaint further places blame on the district and contractors for having “reason to believe that the bus stop was in a dangerous location,” but not moving it. This behavior did not align with NCST best practices, which call for the periodic review of bus stops to determine if changes are needed, and emphasize that stops “should be established only after thorough investigation has revealed the location to be the most desirable in the area clear of hazards or dangerous situations.”

Mark Ross, superintendent of Battle Ground Public Schools, declined to answer STN’s questions on student safety training and the status of the fatal bus stop, since the matter is still under litigation.  

At the time of this report Cascade Student Transportation, which now owns Petermann Transportation, LLC, had not responded to STN’s request for comment. Safety tips both companies provide on the district’s website include cautioning students to wait for the school bus’ red lights, stop arm and driver’s eye contact if they must cross a street.