South Carolina Court Interprets “Meeting or Overtaking” a School Bus in Car Accident Case – Singleton v. Cuthbert

school busEvery driver should know that South Carolina state law requires a motorist to stop when he or she is meeting or overtaking a school bus with its flashing red lights activated.

For obvious safety reasons, a driver is simply not allowed to pass a stopped school bus, nor is he or she allowed to drive past such a bus from the opposite direction. This much is clear from the plain language of the statute.

However, there can be other, less obvious situations involving a driver’s obligation to stop in the presence of a school bus with its lights flashing. In a case recently considered by the South Carolina Court of Appeals, one driver apparently assumed that it was safe to make a left turn when the bus was stopped, but another driver passed the bus and struck the first driver’s car in the side.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Singleton v. Cuthbert, the plaintiff was a woman who was involved in an automobile accident in Beaufort County in October 2010. The accident happened when the woman was making a left turn into a driveway. The defendant, who was approaching from the opposite direction, passed a school bus that had its caution lights activated and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle in the side.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in November 2011, seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. The defendant answered that the plaintiff’s comparative negligence contributed to the accident. At trial, the court entered a directed verdict as to the plaintiff’s negligence in violating S.C. Code § 56-5-2770(A), since she made a left turn while the school bus’ lights were still activated.

The court then submitted the issues of the defendant’s negligence, the comparative negligence of each party, and causation to the jury. The jury found in the defendant’s favor. The trial court denied the plaintiff’s motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) or a new trial. 

What the Appellate Court Decided

The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that, since the plaintiff was not “meeting or overtaking” the school bus in question at the time of the accident, the trial court should not have ruled that she was negligent as a matter of law. Instead, to the extent that § 56-5-2770(A) was applicable to the facts of the case, the issue of whether the plaintiff was negligent was a factual issue for the jury.

According to the appellate court, the circuit court improperly expanded the statute to include not only those drivers who were “meeting or overtaking” a school bus but also those who were “in close proximity to” a school bus. While it would be reasonable for a driver in close proximity to a bus to stop, this was not mandatory under the language of the statute.

To Get Legal Advice from an Experienced South Carolina Car Accident Lawyer

If you have questions about filing suit after a motor vehicle accident and need to talk to a knowledgeable South Carolina car accident attorney, call the Law Offices of Patrick E. Knie at (864) 582-5118 to schedule a free consultation regarding your accident. We serve clients throughout the state, with offices in Spartanburg and Greenville.

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