Case History: California Drivers Advocates was engaged to assist our client in fighting to protect his School Bus Drivers Certificate after the California Highway Patrol had accused him of not reporting a “hit & run” traffic collision that occurred while driving a school bus.
Our client is a 54 year old male who has been professionally operating school buses in Santa Clara County for 25 years. After driving hundreds of thousands of miles while transporting countless numbers of children, not one child had ever been harmed while under his care. As you would expect, our client had a clean driving record and no criminal history.
Our client is married with a special needs child of his own and the loss of his driving career would be both financially and emotionally devastating. We simply had to win for hm.
On the morning of September 30, 2015, our client was operating a school bus transporting special needs children. He was driving on a route he had worked for several years and was familiar with the roadway and each of the children he transported. At one particular stop, our client boarded a child in a wheel-chair whose medical condition required that he be continuously monitored by an adult aide. Once the child’s wheel chair was properly secured and the adult aid was in her seat, our client returned to the driver’s seat and continued to his next stop.
Shortly after pulling away from the stop, our client made a safe and controlled turning movement where he had hundreds of times in the past. On this particular morning, the adult aide who was monitoring the child was not wearing her seat belt and as the bus turned, she slipped out of her seat onto the floor.
Our client saw the incident and immediately stopped the bus. He asked the adult aid if she was hurt and if needed any aid. The adult aide said she was completely unhurt and that only her pride was bruised. Our client confirmed for a second time that the woman was not harmed and then continued on his route.
When our client arrived at the school, he off-loaded all of his children and then again approached the adult aide. For a third time, he again asked her if she had been hurt in the fall, and for a third time, she assured him she was fine.
Later in the day, the adult aide was at lunch with the principal of the school when she complained that her shin hurt and pulled up her pant leg to discover a bruise. When the aide described the fall she had taken in the bus several hours before, the principal became hysterical and demanded that a report be made.
Ultimately a report was made to the school district then to our client’s employer. The incident was then reported to the California Highway Patrol and ultimately our client was interviewed by the CHP.
Despite the fact that our client was completely forthright about the incident and despite the fact that audio/video recordings from the bus completely verified our client’s side of the story, the CHP nonetheless accused our client of being involved in a “hit & run” accident and failing to report a traffic accident as required by California Code of Regulations. When the DMV received the report from the CHP, they immediately moved to revoke our client’s School Bus Certificate for a minimum of one-year and ordered him to surrender his certificate to the CHP.
DMV’s Position: The California DMV’s position was crystal clear. If the department receives a report from a Law Enforcement Officer suggesting that a school bus driver has committed an act or omission while operating a school bus that results in the injury of a person, someone’s head is going to roll. The DMV’s policy is to automatically presume the accuracy of the allegation and to immediately stop the accused driver from transporting children.
In many instances, this “shoot first and ask questions later” approach to enforcement works well and is justified. But in our client’s case, it was clearly abusive and not warranted.
Our Defense: Thankfully, our client contacted us immediately after receiving the Order of Revocation in the mail. We immediately contacted the Special Certificate Unit of the DMV to request a hearing and to request a “Stay of Revocation.” Our initial contact with the DMV was timely and compelling enough that the Special Certificate Unit granted our request to Stay the Revocation, which allowed our client to continue driving school buses while the case moved forward. This was enormously important to our client as the entire process took five months to complete. That is five months he would have been out of work had we not been successful in securing the Stay.
Once the hearing was set and the Stay of Revocation was approved, we began the arduous process of collecting the DMV’s evidence and conducting our investigation. As is the situation in all of our cases, the secret to success was a complete investigation, thorough preparation, and a robust presentation at the Special Certificate Hearing.
When we finally entered the hearing at the San Jose Driver Safety Office, our Client was frightened, but he was ready. Because we had worked so diligently to prepare him for testimony, he was able to completely engage the Hearing Officer and presented himself with confidence and credibility.
We argued that our client had fulfilled his requirement under the law and would only have been required to report the incident if he knew, or reasonably should have known, that an injury had occurred. He had reasonably relied upon the repeated statements of a trustworthy adult that she was not hurt. Unbelievably, the DMV Hearing Officer actually suggested that our client should have physically examined the adult aide. Of course, we argued that any such physical examination could easily have been construed as a physical assault and the hearing officer backed down.
After a great deal of work and legal research, we were able to make a broad argument to the hearing officer that the incident was not a “reportable” accident as defined by the Vehicle Code. We closed by demanding that our client’s school bus certificate be fully reinstated.
At the conclusion of any School Bus Certificate Hearing, the DMV hearing officer does not have the final say in the outcome. The hearing officer simply makes a recommendation to the Certificate Action Review Board in Sacramento. Four weeks after the hearing, we received the hearing officer’s proposed decision to the Certificate Action Review Board. In her findings, the hearing officer acknowledged that no reportable traffic accident had occurred and further acknowledged that our client had repeatedly asked the aide if she was injured. Despite this, the hearing officer still determined that our client was negligent and had exercised poor judgement. The hearing officer’s recommendation to the Certificate Action Review Board was not to revoke the certificate, but to suspend it for 60 days.
Outcome: We were aghast at the hearing officer’s recommendation and, of course, we weren’t about to stand for that. We prepared a detailed brief to the Certificate Action Review Board that accompanied the hearing officer’s proposed decision. Our brief clearly laid out our client’s history, the events that occurred, and the law that supported our position.
Five months after we were retained, we received the final decision in the mail from the Certificate Action Review Board. In its final decision, the review board had completely dismissed the recommendation of the hearing officer and “Set Aside” any revocation of our client’s school bus certificate. This was a complete victory with no strings attached. As a result, our Client’s School Bus Certificate is safe and the children he transports are in the hands of a highly experienced and dedicated professional driver.
If the DMV is revoking your School Bus Certificate, call us immediately. If the DMV announces that they are working to revoke your School Bus Driver’s Certificate, make no mistake they intend to take you off the road RIGHT NOW and will ask questions later. If you hope to save your certificate and if you hope to keep driving while the process is working, you must respond quickly.
At California Drivers Advocates, we’ve seen every dirty trick in the DMV’s book. We know what they are doing and we know how to turn it around.