School Immune in Suit Over Child’s Bus Assault

     HOUSTON (CN) – Though school bus security cameras may have prevented the sexual assault of a child by his classmates, a Texas appeals court cleared the district of liability.
     WRRX, as he is described in the court record, was 8 in August 2011 when two students on the bus for special-needs students molested him on the way home from Thompson Elementary School.
     The boy’s mother, PERX, sued Houston Independent School District in June 2012, alleging that she learned from her son after the district told her about the assault that students had been abusing him on the bus in the days before the incident.
     PERX claimed the district was negligent for “failing to have an aide on the bus, as well as a driver, to help monitor the safety of the passengers.”
     In an amended version of her lawsuit, PERX said the assault would not have happened if the bus’s cameras had been operational and the footage reviewed daily. The district moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, urging the court to grant its request for immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act. It appealed to the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston after failing to sway a judge in Harris County.
     The challenge came down to language in the Texas Tort Claims Act that waives a government entity’s immunity if the alleged property damage, injury or death “arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment.”
     PERX argued that the failure to operate the security camera amounted to use of a motor vehicle.
     To back her position, she cited a Texas case where liability was attached to school bus driver whose passenger was hit by a car because of the failure to illuminate the bus’s flashing lights.     
     But the appellate court found Thursday that she was comparing apples and oranges.
     “Whereas the flashing lights on a school bus work immediately to prevent drivers from striking pedestrians at the moment the lights are used, PERX contends that the use of the security cameras on the days of the prior assaults would have prevented an assault at a later date,” Judge Ken Wise wrote for a three-judge panel. “In the intervening time period, PERX assumes that the security footage would have been reviewed promptly and revealed the prior assaults and that some future action – presumably a suspension for the assailants – would have barred the assailants from riding the bus with WRRX on the day of the assault. This extensive chain of assumptions eliminates the required nexus between the injury and the operation or use of the motor vehicle.”
     The appeals court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.

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