The Orange Unified School District reached a $10 million settlement over a 2014 school bus crash in Anaheim Hills that injured five middle-school children.
The crash occurred when the driver, Gerald Rupple, passed out and the bus hit a tree. The driver is facing felony charges in trial this February for allegedly concealing information from school officials and the Department of Motor Vehicles about his medical condition. Gerald Rupple suffers from pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects the heart and lungs.
The children involved in the crash suffered from a broken clavicle and a traumatic brain injury, among other ailments. Traumatic brain injuries can result in life-long damage including memory and neurological complications.
The families of five of the injured children claimed that Orange Unified was negligent and that the school district had missed warning signs of Rupple’s medical complications. Though the driver did not disclose his condition, the plaintiffs claimed that the school district did not adequately investigate his prior safety concerns.
The accident occurred on a newer school bus that was equipped with seat belts. All of the children on the bus were wearing seat belts at the time of the accident, which could have prevented additional injuries.
School bus fatalities are rare for students in the U.S. Between 2005 and 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 53 school-age children died in accidents while riding a “school transportation vehicle”. Approximately 25 million are transported to school each day on buses.
There is no federal mandate requiring children to wear seat belts on school buses. Only six states—California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana and Texas, require school buses to have passenger seat belts. The National Safety Council and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended that passenger seat belts be installed on new school buses for several years now.
Installing seat belts on school buses can be costly. The average cost to install seat belts on a large school bus ranges between approximately $7,000 and $10,000. However, the NHTSA estimates that installing seat belts on school buses could reduce the average number of school bus deaths from four to two each year.
Seat belts save over 13,000 lives in the United States each year and reduce the risk of serious injury by 50 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It’s time to protect the millions of children that ride school buses each day by having them buckle up.