Illinois Appellate Court Holds School District Accountable For Bus Driver’s Misconduct

When Misty Green was in kindergarten she was sexually molested by her Illinois school bus driver. The bus driver has since been convicted of child abuse and sent to prison. But now an adult Green seeks compensation from her Illinois school district based on its liability in the abuse (Green v. Carlinville Community Unit School Dist. No. 1).

An Illinois trial court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment stating that all the counts against the district were reliant on the district’s classification as a “common carrier,” but that the district was not a common carrier. An Illinois Appellate Court agreed that the district was not a common carrier, but that it was still liable for the bus driver’s misconduct.

Under Illinois law a common carrier is a carrier who transports and serves all the public alike and does not have the ability to refuse service to anyone. Whereas a private carrier has no obligation to indiscriminately carry all of the public and instead transports only by special agreement. Both the trial and appellate court found that the school district was not a common carrier because it did not transport all of the public. Rather the district transported only students and only for student-related activities.

But even though the Illinois appellate court agreed that the school district could not be classified as a common carrier it disagreed with the trial’s court ruling- namely, that the district was not liable for the bus driver’s misconduct. Instead the appellate court found that the school district could be held liable.

The appellate court ruled that although the school district was not a common carrier, it performed the same duty as a common carrier- transporting individuals. A common carrier is liable for its employees’ actions because the passengers cannot ensure their own personal safety. The same could be true of children on a school bus.

The court leaves no interpretation of its meaning when it states, “To hold that adults on public transportation buses are entitled to more protection than the most vulnerable members of our society- namely, children on a school bus- is ludicrous”.

This court is not the first to come to this conclusion. Garrett v. Grant School District No. 124 also held a school district carrier to the same standard of care that is imposed on a common carrier. By doing so both courts have increased the duties that a school district owes its students.

However, in its ruling in Green the appellate court clarified that its ruling was limited to the duty school districts owed their students while riding a school bus. This ruling will not affect other duties a school district owes its students, but is limited to the issue at hand.

For over 30 years, Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing law in the Chicago and Cook County area, including Buffalo Grove, LaGrange, Orland Park, and Southmoor.

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