Beyond Drugs and Bullying…
Students Face Real Dangers Walking, Biking and Busing to and from School Every Day
With summer clearly in the rearview mirror, school students are settling back into their routines. For most, mornings aren’t easy; it’s far too early and most kids have to be coaxed — ok, chased — out of bed and out the door. The truth is, not too different than adults who commute to work, getting to and from school is half the battle for students. It can feel like a real-life daily game of Frogger for students who walk, bike and bus to and from school.
Unfortunately, far too many school children are seriously injured, or worse, thanks to distracted driving, which can include talking and texting on mobile phones, eating, drinking, applying makeup and, of course, speeding and other reckless driving behavior. We all know not to drink and drive. We’ve seen the horrific aftermath of DWI/DUI and texting-while-driving accidents. And, yet, the Automobile Association of America (AAA) reports that over the past decade, one in four young pedestrians have been killed while walking home from school between 3 and 7 p.m. — wrongful death accidents blamed on negligent drivers.
The morning commute is equally as dangerous. According to AAA, 13 percent of the more than 44 million children who head back to classrooms each September get to school by walking or riding their bicycles. The remainder take buses or hitch rides. While all that’s going on, America’s workforce is trying to get where it needs to go.
“Children are not as aware of the dangers posed to them while walking the sidewalks and crossing in crosswalks while on their way to and from school and in many instances are excited to be walking with their friends,” cautions Mark F. Casazza, Esq., an attorney with the Hazlet, NJ-based law firm of Rudnick, Addonizio, Pappa & Casazza, P.C. “Our laws require drivers to yield to pedestrians, to reduce their speeds while in designated school zones and to stop or yield to school buses on the roads. As a result, drivers must be much more diligent in the observations they make and the manner in which they drive their cars. Failure to do so can result in receiving tickets, but more importantly, accidents, injuries and, in some cases, tragic deaths.”
In both New York and New Jersey, and in most states, traffic ticket fines are doubled in school zones. “As a driver, you are required to have a heightened level of attention. Doing something reckless or careless will likely have you facing numerous traffic violations. Passing a school bus that is stopped to pick up or drop off children can result in a hefty five-point ticket,” points out experienced Atlantic City, NJ criminal defense lawyer John W. Tumelty. “However, if you hit a child while passing a school bus, you could face significant criminal charges.”
So, precautions should be taken on all counts. School districts employ crossing guards to regulate traffic flow and assist pedestrian students across streets and throughout school zones. Drivers must obey all rules of the road. And, it should almost go without saying that all parents of students who bike and walk to school should remind their children to always pay attention to the crossing guard’s directions.
The truth is, however, kids will be kids.
Children often don’t pay attention when they should — and walking to and from school is certainly no exception. Taking it one step further, most are preoccupied with technology, friends and juggling far-too-heavy book bags while walking to the bus stop. For this reason, Tony LaDuca, partner of the LaDuca Law Firm in Rochester, NY, cautions parents to talk about school bus safety with their children early and often.
Pedestrians have the right of way. To that end, when a driver “deviates from a safe, normal practice, they can be held responsible” for their actions. However, pedestrians and bike riders have a responsibility, as well, to take the proper precautions when sharing the road with motor vehicles. “Children who are walking to school, or even to the bus stop, shouldn’t be texting or wearing headphones, etc., because you can hear something before you see it,” advises Mr. LaDuca. “Just like drivers, children must be aware of what’s going on around them.”
Of course, once the bus stops, the driver is able to turn on flashing lights and put out the stop sign, signalling all traffic to stop. However, younger children are naturally excited when they see the bus and start running toward it. “It’s critically important to teach your children to stay on the sidewalk until the bus driver motions for them to approach the open door,” Mr. LaDuca says.
Mr. LaDuca recommends walking children to the bus stop and showing them the “zone of danger” around a school bus. The zone is typically an area 10 feet in front of the bus, 10 feet behind the bus and 10 feet on both sides. Until children are “invited” to board the bus by the bus driver — who has a responsibility to secure the area of any oncoming vehicles — all school children must learn to stand back.
In colder weather, Mr. LaDuca adds, remind your children that ice and buses aren’t a great combination. Standing on the street by the bus stop can be a recipe for disaster if the stopping bus skids.
Steps to Take If Your Child Has Been Injured in a Car Accident
Courts are not likely to view injuries sustained in accidents within school zones any differently than they may in any other accident caused by a negligent driver. However, it’s much easier to prove negligence in an area, such as a school zone, where posted speed limits are reduced, crosswalks are marked, crossing guards are present and flashing caution lights adorn buses.
An experienced attorney can certainly make a difference in the outcome for the family of a child injured or killed in an accident. “Think long term. You want an attorney who doesn’t just focus on the injury that happened. I consider the long-term impact over the child’s whole life,” Mr. LaDuca says. “A less experienced attorney may consider the moment and the settlement being offered for a broken leg, not the lifetime impact that injury may have forever.”
Maximum damages in a personal injury claim involving a child can be significant. Your child is entitled to damages for pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, impairment and disability. “If they can no longer play on their sport team, if they need to be homeschooled while recuperating from their injuries, these circumstances have a legal value that an experienced lawyer can seek to collect for you,” says Mr. Casazza. “In the worst-case scenario, parents whose child has been struck and killed are entitled to recover for the trauma such an event will cause.”
If your child has been injured in an accident, it’s understandable that you may be panicked and overwhelmed. Here are some steps to take if you find yourself managing the unimaginable:
At the Scene of the Accident:
- “You should make sure that the police identify all witnesses and all evidence is preserved at the scene,” suggests Mr. Casazza. “Also, notify the school of the accident immediately.”
- Attempt to collect all names and contact information for any witnesses.
- Make a note of anything that should be around that isn’t. Was a crossing guard there? Were traffic lights working?
- Similarly, look for video cameras on nearby businesses and/or traffic poles that may have recorded the accident.
- Take photographs (you have a cell phone!) of the accident from all angles. If circumstances require you to stay with your child, ask someone nearby to take the photos. A picture really does say a thousand words at a settlement table or in a courtroom.
In the aftermath of the accident:
Mr. LaDuca says that while you can’t prevent an inevitable accident, you can take control of who you hire to fight for your family in a personal injury lawsuit.
You want somebody who understands everything from the medicine involved to the legal issues involved. There are countless personal injury lawyers out there who may be willing to take your case,” added Mr. LaDuca, noting many personal injury lawyers work on contingency. They don’t get paid unless they win damages for you. The question is, will they be focused on their pay day or getting you the fair and reasonable settlement you deserve for your injuries? Further, if the insurance company isn’t willing to negotiate in your best interests, it’s important that you choose a lawyer who knows their way around a court and who will be prepared for trial from the start.
A Final Thought…
It’s important to note, also, that there is a statute of limitations associated with filing personal injury lawsuits. In most cases, the deadline for filing a claim expires two years from the injured child’s 18th birthday. However, if you are intending to sue a public entity, such as the municipality or school district, there is another deadline you must meet.
All of that being said, time really isn’t on your side.Memories fade. Evidence gets misplaced. Witnesses move. Contact an experienced, aggressive personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after the accident,. Get all the information on record so that it will be preserved for when you pursue your claim.
Most of all, keep your eye on the bigger picture. “I look for full, fair compensation, not a quick answer,” says Mr. LaDuca. “It’s not as easy as you might think to get that during negotiations. You need to choose a personal injury lawyer who, when necessary, will take it to the next stage and fight.”