Monday’s horrific school bus accident is in the news again because authorities have learned that the bus driver was drunk at the time of the crash. The driver apparenly had three double shots of whiskey before dropping off the children, and then drank a six pack of beer before the crash.
Fortunately, there were no children on the bus at the time of the accident, but the bus struck a pedestrian who suffered fatal injuries. Eight others were also injured and hospitalized.
Drunk drivers are often subjected to punitive damages, and this bus driver clearly should be liable for punitive damages. No one has any business being behind the wheel after having that much to drink, especially behind the wheel of a vehicle like a school bus which can be difficult to drive down some of Chicago’s narrow streets.
The law in Illinois is that employers are legally responsible for the actions of their employees, and in this case, they would be liable for the negligence of the drunken bus driver. However, Illinois has a strange rule with regard to holding employers liable for punitive damages. It is called the complicity rule which says that the employer is only liable for punitive damages when the employer orders the conduct or is aware of it and ratifies the conduct by permitting it to go on.
Obtaining punitive damages from the bus company is going to require careful investigation of what the company knew of this man’s drinking habits. The fact that he decided to have three double shots of whiskey before going to drive kids to school in the morning is probably an indicator that he often drank in the morning, and the bus company’s awareness of that habit will be a key to recovery of punitive damages.