Vehicle Insurance Policies

Insurance law lawyers need to be able to distinguish cases where they can help someone and cases where they cannot. Understanding how courts look at different situations is important. A 1992, Texas Supreme Court is a good case to know. The style of the case is, LeLeaux v. Hampshire-Fannett ISD. Here is some of the relevant information.
Monica LeLeaux, a sixteen-year-old high school junior, hit her head while trying to close the back door of a school bus. She and her mother sued the owner of the bus, the Hamshire-Fannett Independent School District, and the bus driver for damages. The trial court granted summary judgment for defendants.
Monica’s accident occurred on a school band trip, the events of which are summarize here based solely upon Monica’s deposition testimony. She and the other band members had traveled in school buses to another school to compete in a marching contest. Once they finished, Monica and some of her schoolmates, along with the band director, stayed to watch other bands perform. At some point Monica returned to the bus she had ridden to the contest. The bus was parked and empty, and the rear emergency door was open. Monica did not open it, and she does not know who did. She and a friend, J.R. Thompson, sat together on pillows in the rear doorway of the bus, dangling their feet out the back, talking. No one else was in the bus while they were there.
When Monica and J.R. heard students coming toward the bus, they both jumped down to the ground. J.R. went around to the front of the bus to meet the kids coming back from the contest. Monica picked up her pillow, which had fallen to the ground when she jumped down, and threw it back into the bus. She then grabbed the seats or something else at the rear of the bus and jumped back up into the emergency doorway so that she could close the door. Although the door can be closed from the outside, Monica could not reach it from the ground well enough to shut it. She does not know why J.R. did not close the door, nor does she recall exactly why she decided to close the door, unless it was to protect the students’ personal articles on the bus from being taken. Neither the driver nor anyone else was on the bus, and the engine was not running. Whatever her reason for shutting the door, Monica did not jump back into the bus to take her seat.
Monica had gotten in and out of the bus through the rear door on prior occasions and knew how tall it was. She had never hit her head before. This time, however, as she jumped up into the rear doorway, she stood up, mistakenly thinking she was inside the door, and hit her head on the top of the door frame. She bent over in one of the seats, laughing, as she sometimes did in response to pain. J.R. heard her, entered the front of the bus and ran back to where she was. About that time, the bus driver came up, got on the bus, and started the engine. When he did, a buzzer signaled that the back door was open. The driver told Monica to close the door, but as she reached out to do it, she passed out. The next thing she remembered was the band director standing over her.
A school district is not liable for a personal injury proximately caused by a negligent employee unless the injury arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment. The phrase, “arises from”, requires a nexus between the injury negligently caused by a governmental employee and the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or piece of equipment. While the statute does not specify whose operation or use is necessary–the employee’s, the person who suffers injury, or some third party–the court said the more plausible reading is that the required operation or use is that of the employee.
“Operation’ refers to ‘a doing or performing of a practical work,’ … and ‘use’ means ‘to put or bring into action or service; to employ for or apply to a given purpose’….” The bus in this case was not in operation; it was parked, empty, with the motor off. The driver was not aboard; there were no students aboard. The bus was not “doing or performing a practical work”; it was not being “put or brought into action or service”; it was not being “employed or applied to a given purpose”. The bus was nothing more than the place where Monica happened to injure herself.
When an injury occurs on a school bus but does not arise out of the use or operation of the bus, and the bus is only the setting for the injury, immunity for liability is not waived. Because the record establishes that Monica’s injury did not arise out of the school district’s or its driver’s operation or use of the school bus, the court held that the school district is immune from liability in this case.