School bus accidents can leave a devastating impact on children, families and an entire community. The families of Skyview High School witnessed this firsthand on April 29th, 2019, when an ambulance transported one student to a hospital in Billings, Montana after a truck rear-ended their school bus on Bench Boulevard North. Officials said they suspected driving under the influence (DUI) to be a factor in why the truck’s driver crashed into the back of the bus. The bus did not sustain significant damage, and the student is expected to make a full recovery. Her parents may have grounds to seek restitution from the at-fault driver for the accident and injuries.

About the DUI Bus Crash

On the way home from school, one Skyview High School bus had stopped and turned on its flashing lights in the northbound lane of Bench Boulevard, near the Anchor Avenue intersection. A 44-year-old Billings man, Jeremy Bernhard, failed to stop for the school bus and rammed into the back of the bus in his Toyota Tundra. The crash broke the window out of the bottom of the bus’s emergency exit door as well as damaged the back bumper. The collision caused at least two students minor injuries.

The initial report said that two students had gone to the hospital for minor injuries after the rear-end collision, but Billings police later corrected it to just one person, a teenage girl. The other student allegedly turned down ambulance transport while on the scene of the accident on Bench Boulevard. The report stated that the student that went to the hospital only had minor injuries. The other students on the bus switched to a different school bus to take them home. Drop-off time was about one hour later than usual.

Photos of the accident show the white Toyota Tundra with a crumpled front end, along with deployed airbags. The driver, Jeremy Bernhard, did not suffer any injuries in the accident. He is currently facing DUI charges for suspected driving under the influence at the time of the crash. The original report stated that police suspected DUI at the scene. Prosecutors are pursuing DUI charges against Bernhard, who may face license suspension, fines, and jail time if convicted.

Liability for School Bus Accidents

The frightening DUI school bus accident in Billings is a reminder that accidents can and do happen – especially when drivers are reckless. The students involved in this particular crash were lucky not to have suffered any serious or life-threatening injuries. However, some of the students still required medical care and may need counseling for emotional distress after the traumatic event. Parents of school-aged children may wonder about liability and personal injury claims after accidents involving school buses in Montana. A lawyer can answer specific questions during a legal consultation.

In general, a victim or his/her parents can pursue damage recovery from an at-fault party after a school bus accident. Montana’s civil laws allow accident victims to seek damages from one or more defendants responsible for causing the injuries. Going up against someone like a drunk driver would take establishing that the defendant failed to fulfill a degree of reasonable care, and that this is what caused the bus accident. The defendant could be another driver, the bus driver, the school, or the city.

Holding a school liable for a bus accident could be possible if the school could have done something to prevent the crash. If, for example, the school hired an incompetent school bus driver that causes an accident, the school could be accountable for damages. In a case against a public school, however, the government will serve as the defendant. Claims against the government come with unique rules and requirements compared to average personal injury lawsuits in Montana. Speak to an attorney for more information about your specific bus accident case.