School bus accidents raise questions about uninsured motorist coverage

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tens of thousands of students depend on school buses to get to and from school, and Durham Transportation runs 3,000 routes a day for Shelby County Schools.

Accidents will happen, but this school year, it seems they’re happening every day.

Students in a school bus crash last September described the horrifying experience they went through.

“That was the worse experience of my life. I thought I was gonna die,” one student told News Channel 3 after the bus crash.

“It’s very sad for students, you know,” said a mother whose children ride a school bus.

What’s even sadder is  trying to figure out what happens if your child is injured on the school bus.

For one mom, the collision course started at an intersection in a southeast Memphis neighborhood last April. Her two daughters were on a school bus when it collided with a car that was attempting to go around the bus.

Luckily no one had to go to the hospital, but it turns out the driver of the car was driving with a suspended license.

The parents of two kids on the bus took their children to the doctor for back problems, but got a shocker when the doctors told them after weeks of treating the kids, they had still not been paid and the parents had to cover the cost if treatments continued.

When the parents couldn’t get Durham to answer their calls about coverage, they called an attorney. After investigating, the attorney sent them  a letter saying the driver who hit the school bus didn’t have insurance and the bus the kids were on had no uninsured motorist coverage.

We went to Durham for answers. They refused to comment, saying the insurance they carry meets state and school contract requirements.

The state of Tennessee says schools buses must be insured for liability and property damage, but it doesn’t mention uninsured motorists coverage.

“Safety is the most important thing to us at it relates to students,” Shelby County School Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said.

He said students are covered if Durham is at fault in a bus accident.

The Shelby County Schools’ transportation contract requires Durham to hold Commercial Liability Insurance for bodily injury and property damage, but says nothing about uninsured motorists.

In fact, there’s even a clause that protects the school system, and in essence puts all the responsibility of school transportation in the hands of Durham.

“If something happened and someone looks to sue the district, they are responsible for it,” Hopson said.

So does the school system’s responsibility essentially end and Durham’s pick up when kids step on the bus? Apparently so.

Shelby County School Board President Teresa Jones pushed for and this May got the school board to include regular performance reviews in Durham’s contract, not just because of accidents, but also to make sure they are measuring up all around.

“In general if we are going to spend the type of money that we spend on that multi year contract, accountability is at the forefront,” Jones said.

She added the administration has not provided the results of the performance review for Durham so far this year, despite all the bus accidents. No word on when they will.

Attorney Jeff Rosenblum handles liability and injury cases every day and sees the financial losses families face when hit by an uninsured driver. He said uninsured motorist insurance is worth the cost.

“Our school board has the power if they choose to make that kind of insurance a requirement in the contract. In other words, they can say, ‘Durham, if you want to get paid to transport our kids, you are gonna have uninsured or under-insured motorists coverage to protect them,'” Rosenblum said.

School leaders haven’t made that request yet.

“It may be that going forth we want to include additional measures in the contract based on the types of things you are talking about,” Jones said.

“I think all these things have to be constantly evaluated and tweaked and if something is not working, we need to make sure we do something that works,” Hopson said when asked about the number of bus wrecks this year.

Shelby County School officials plan to meet with Durham representatives this week.

By the way, the new municipal schools do not require uninsured motorist insurance coverage either. Neither does Desoto County, Mississippi.

So as parents, you may want to make sure your insurance will cover your kids while on the bus.

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