School immune from suit where student drop-off only provided location of incident – student’s injuries caused by reckless driver

Stiff v. Kaufman Indep. Sch. Dist., 05-17-00988-CV, 2018 WL 3725278, at *1 (Tex. App.—Dallas August 6, 2018) (mem. op.).

This is a school bus/drop-off case brought under the Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”). The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the school. .

Seven-year-old Nicholas Christopher Garza (“Garza”) exited a Kaufman ISD school bus and was crossing the road to his foster parents’ home when he was hit by a pickup truck, operated by Salvador Hernandez. Garza was killed.  His biological parents sued Kaufman ISD asserting the school bus was defective, and that the drop-off location was unreasonable and a dangerous condition. Hernandez, who was speeding well over the limit, vision impaired, and driving without a license, said he did not see the bus or Nicholas. Hernandez later pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide. Regarding the drop-off location, all witnesses to the accident agreed there was a “risk” in children crossing the 2-lane highway, but no one testified the drop-off location was a “dangerous condition”. The school filed a motion for summary judgment which was granted. Garza’s parents appealed.

A common law negligence claim can only be successful if the plaintiff pleads and establishes proximate cause of the injury. The test of foreseeability requires that a person of average intelligence should have anticipated the hazard created by a negligent act or oversight. Speculation or presumption are not enough. When alleged negligence merely results in a plaintiff’s presence at a location, but entirely different behavior or action causes injury, the damage is removed from the defendant’s original conduct.

Under the TTCA, the operation or use of a motor vehicle “does not cause the injury if it does no more than furnish the condition that makes the injury possible”. Any complaints stating that Kaufman ISD was negligent in the mapping or planning of bus stops when creating a bus route do not involve the use or operation of a motor vehicle. Neither the school bus, nor any part of the school bus, was used directly as a proximate cause of Garza’s death. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion, click here. Panel consists of Justice Francis, Justice Fillmore and Justice Whitehill. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Francis. The attorney listed for the Kaufman Independent School District is Paul K. Pearce Jr. The attorney listed for Garza is Geno E. Borchardt.