Parents sued a school district after their son fell or was pushed out of the rear emergency exit door of a school bus and died. The accident occurred while the bus was en route to a field trip. Two teachers were assigned to monitor the students on the field trip. Both monitors sat in the front of the bus, which was contrary to district rules requiring one monitor in the front and another in the back of the bus. The student, who was located in the rear of the bus, fell or was pushed out of the emergency exit door while the bus was travelling 65 mph. The parents alleged that immediately before the student fell, the bus ran over something or was traveling over uneven pavement and that the bus was bouncing up and down. They further alleged that there were marks on the emergency exit door that could be consistent with damage to the interior side of the door caused by the bouncing of the bus.

The parents alleged that the district was negligent for failing to train the bus driver, failing to maintain the bus in a safe condition, allowing both monitors to sit in the front of the bus, allowing students to stand in the bus, failing to slow the bus down after the emergency door alert sounded (indicating that the door was opened), and operating the bus at a high rate of speed, given the road conditions. The district responded by arguing that it was immune from suit for negligence and that the lawsuit should be dismissed. The trial court held that the lawsuit could proceed, and the district appealed this decision to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals held that part of the lawsuit should be dismissed but that part of it could proceed. A governmental entity (including a school district) is immune from suit for negligence. However, there is an exception to this immunity for claims of injury arising from a government employee’s operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle. In this case, the parents alleged that the bus driver was driving at an unsafe speed, as demonstrated by the fact that the bus was exceeding the posted speed limit at the time of the incident and that the bus was bouncing up and down, thereby allowing someone (or something) to be thrown against the emergency exit door, resulting in the student’s fall. The court of appeals concluded that the allegations of unsafe speed were sufficient to show that the student’s death arose from the operation or use of a motor-driven vehicle. Therefore, the lawsuit could proceed.