Gutierrez v. Austin Independent School District
On February 19, 1999, an eight-year-old child was struck by a pickup truck and killed while crossing the street after exiting her school bus. Her mother was present at the bus stop and witnessed her daughter’s death. The driver of the vehicle that hit her was intoxicated. Due to the danger that children were exposed to by being dropped off by the bus on the opposite side of a busy street, multiple parents, including this eight-year-old’s parents, had complained and requested a school bus route change.
During the case, the school district filed a plea to the jurisdiction, claiming that they were immune to the suit. Many governmental entities can claim sovereign immunity to protect the government from lawsuits issuing from their normal business conduct. Typically, Texas schools have such immunity on school campuses or other places but not during the operation of motor vehicles. According to the school district training guide for bus drivers, when children were required to cross the street, the bus driver was to give a signal to the children when it was safe to cross. In this instance, the bus driver had instructed the children that the signal was a honk of the horn. However, the driver also honked the horn to alert the driver of the pickup truck that children were crossing. Therefore, the bus driver instructed the young girl to cross when it was actually unsafe to do so.
In this case, even though the child had just exited the bus, the school district argued that the accident did not involve a motor vehicle, which therefore meant they had immunity. This case went to the Texas Supreme Court, which sided with the plaintiff and created new case law in Texas. Donna Bowen of Slack Davis Sanger then negotiated settlements for the family to help compensate them for the loss of their little girl.
Date of Incident
June 19, 2009
Location of Incident
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