In Brinsmead v. Elk Grove Unified School District (2023), the Court of Appeals recently held that under Education Code 44808, a school district is not immune from liability and owes a duty when it has “undertaken to provide transportation” to students. The Court further specified that a school district is liable during an undertaking to provide transportation while the student is or should be under the immediate and direct supervision of an employee of the district.
G., a 16-year-old girl, accepted a ride with a friend after waiting 40 minutes for the school bus and was subsequently involved in a fatal crash on the way to school. Her parents filed a lawsuit against the District and other parties, alleging that the District had failed in its duty to promptly collect their daughter from the designated bus stop, provide notifications and guidance regarding delayed buses, and ensure the provision of a reasonably safe and reliable bus system. The first amended complaint sought monetary damages for wrongful death and asserted a survivors' action against all defendants.
In response to the first amended complaint, the District argued that Section 44808 provided immunity because the parents had not alleged that the District began undertaking G.'s transport to school. The trial court agreed, dismissing the parents' complaint.
The Court of Appeal reversed the lower court's decision, remanding the case back to the trial court and concluding that the parents pleaded sufficient facts to fall outside the scope of Section 44808 immunity. Specifically, the parents allege that the District had “undertaken to provide transportation” when it accepted the responsibility of providing reliable transportation of the student to school upon the parents' enrollment of their daughter in the District's school bus program. Furthermore, the parents allege that the student should have been under the District's supervision when she decided to seek alternative transportation and when the fatal accident occurred. The court found that the parents sufficiently alleged that the District owed a duty to provide transportation to the student and failed to exercise reasonable care in performing that duty by not timely picking her up, and not notifying student or parents of school bus delays or how to react during those delays.
On remand to the trial court, the District's liability for negligence, if any, will be determined based upon whether the student should have been under a District employee's supervision at the time of the accident, whether the District acted reasonably in performing the undertaking alleged, and whether any breach of the District's duty was the proximate cause of the injury.
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