The 14th Court of Appeals in Houston dismissed a case involving the sexual assault of a male student with special needs on his school bus. The appellate court cleared the school district of liability, stating the plaintiff's argument was based on assumptions about the deterrent effect of onboard video cameras.
The boy, described as WRRX in court records, was 8 years old when two students on the special-education bus route molested him during an afternoon run in August 2011. When the victim’s mother, PRRX, sued Houston Independent School District in June 2012, she alleged that she’d learned from her son after the district informed her of the assault that classmates had been abusing him on the bus in the days before the incident.
In an amended version of her lawsuit, PERX contended the molestation would not have occurred if the bus’ video cameras had been operational and the footage reviewed daily. The district moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, urging the court to grant its request for immunity under the Texas Tort Claims Act.
"In response, PERX claimed that the sexual assault was caused by various failures of the bus driver which amounted to use of a motor-driven vehicle. Pertinent here, PERX contended that the failure of HISD employees to use a security camera on the bus, and review its footage in the days leading up to the assault, constituted the operation of a motor-driven vehicle which caused the injury to WRRX," according to court records.
The challenge came down to language in the Texas Tort Claims Act that waives a government entity’s immunity if the alleged property damage, injury or death “arises from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle or motor-driven equipment,” reported Courthouse News.
The boy’s mother argued that the failure to operate the security camera amounted to use of a motor vehicle, citing a Texas case in which liability was ascribed to a bus driver whose student rider was struck by a car because the driver failed to turn on the bus’ flashing lights. But on Aug. 28 the appellate court was not swayed by the comparison.
“Whereas the flashing lights on a school bus work immediately to prevent drivers from striking pedestrians at the moment the lights are used, PRRX contends that the use of the security cameras on the days of the prior assaults would have prevented an assault at a later date,” Judge Ken Wise wrote for a three-judge panel.
“In the intervening time period, PERX assumes that the security footage would have been reviewed promptly and revealed the prior assaults and that some future action — presumably a suspension for the assailants — would have barred the assailants from riding the bus with WRRX on the day of the assault. This extensive chain of assumptions eliminates the required nexus between the injury and the operation or use of the motor vehicle."