A parent’s worst fear is something terrible happening to their child. Every day thousands of Cobb County parents send their children to and from school on Cobb County school buses. What are your rights if the unimaginable happens and your child is injured as a passenger in a wreck caused by the Cobb County school bus driver? What are your rights if you are injured in a wreck caused by a Cobb County school bus? Surprisingly, very little.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that holds the sovereign or the “state” is immune from lawsuits unless they consent to being sued. In Georgia, the State, Counties, and Cities all have different rules as it relates to sovereign immunity and whether or not it has been waived. Generally, if the State, County or City has insurance, then immunity is waived up to the limits of the insurance depending on the type of incident (car wreck, slip and fall, etc.). Of course, however, there are many different scenarios and exceptions that go against this general rule.
Sovereign immunity applies to school districts as well. Under Georgia law, school districts waive their sovereign immunity to the extent they “purchase” insurance for the school buses they own and operate. I know what you’re thinking – “that’s easy, of course they purchase insurance for those big, clunky school buses that don’t have seatbelts and carry our children to and from school!” Surprisingly, that is not the case in Cobb County. Instead, what Cobb County, and some other counties, have chosen to do is to procure “self-insure” with limits of only $100,000 per incident and $500,000 per occurrence. Here is a link to the policy if you want to read it:
So what does this mean? Isn’t self-insurance the same as having regular insurance? Because Cobb County has chosen to be self-insured, it can (and does) argue that sovereign immunity applies to any claim made by a person injured by a Cobb County school bus because Cobb County technically has not “purchased” insurance under the Georgia law. Instead, Cobb County has elected to “procure” its own self-insurance. While this may seem like a form over substance argument (and it is), there is case law that supports this position by Cobb County – because they have not purchased insurance under the Georgia code section, they have not waived sovereign immunity by agreeing to have its own self-insurance policy.
Well if they have self-insurance, won’t they pay what is fair anyway? That’s why they have it, right? That would be nice. But, because Cobb County can argue sovereign immunity applies to any potential cause of action, you cannot threaten them with a lawsuit if they give a low-ball offer to resolve any claim. What’s more, if you read the self-insured policy language, it excludes damages (payment) for pain and suffering, and it will only pay for “reasonable” medical bills. This severely limits your right to recovery, and forces you to accept a lowball offer because you may not have any other option.
On the other hand, there are other metro counties, such as Henry County, that have chosen to “purchase” insurance for their school buses in order to protect its citizens and students. Those counties have agreed to waive their immunity up to the limits of insurance, and cannot argue sovereign immunity applies.
If you are injured by a Cobb County school bus you need someone who knows the law and is willing to fight hard for your rights. There are certain ways to put pressure on Cobb County to do what’s right, and to fairly compensate you for your injury. Additionally, there are other avenues of insurance that may apply to your situation.
If you or a loved one are injured in a school bus accident, contact personal injury and wrongful death lawyers at Williams Elleby in Kennesaw, Georgia today for a free consultation at 833-LEGALGA.