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May 17, 2011

Public Bus Company Under Contract to Transport Students is not Bound by Safety Requirements Imposed on Standard Yellow School Bus

In Smith v. Sherwood, 2011 N.Y. LEXIS 244 (February 15, 2011), the New York State Court of Appeals reversed the decision from the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, that denied summary judgment to the defendant Central New York Regional Transportation Authority ("Centro") for its bus driver's actions related to an automobile accident.

In Smith v. Sherwood, defendant Centro contracted with the Syracuse City School District to transport students within the District to and from school. Centro's buses were public buses, as opposed to standard yellow school buses.

On October 3, 2002, the infant plaintiff, 12-year-old Derek Smith, rode the Centro bus home from school. The bus driver passed Derek's designated stop and dropped him off at the next stop, which was on the opposite side of the street. Derek exited the bus and walked into the adjoining lane of traffic, where he was struck by an oncoming vehicle traveling in the same direction as the bus. Derek sustained serious injuries as a result of the accident.

Derek's father commenced an action to recover damages for Derek's personal injuries. The Complaint alleged that Centro breached its common-law duty to Derek and violated the provisions of Vehicle and Traffic Law pertaining to bus safety. In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals held that Centro, being a public bus company, did not breach any duty of cared owed to Derek.

In reaching its decision, the Court determined that Centro's duty was to let Derek off of the bus at a "safe" location. Finding the location Derek exited to be "safe," the Court explained that Centro had no further obligation, "even if the disembarking passenger is a school child who attempts to cross a street by passing in front of a stopped bus."

The Court contrasted Centro's duty of care with the requirements that would have been imposed if Derek had been on a typical yellow school bus that is bound by the safety requirements of Vehicle and Traffic Law §375(20) and §1174(b). These provisions require the driver of a yellow school bus to stop the bus and illuminate flashing red signal lights until the passenger(s) have reached the opposite side of the street. Notwithstanding the fact that Derek's school district contracted with Centro to transport students to and from school, the public bus that Derek rode on October 3, 2002, was not bound by the same safety requirements imposed on a standard yellow school bus.

This decision stands for the proposition that the a public bus company that contracts with a school district to transport students is not subject to liability for failure to comply with Vehicle and Traffic Law §375(20) and §1174(b). 

If you require further information regarding the information presented in this Legal Alert and its impact on your organization, please contact any of the members of the Practice Area.


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