Illinois children who are sexually or physically abused on school buses operated by school districts are now afforded the same legal protections that apply to passengers on common carriers. In Green v. Carlinville School District, 381 Ill. App. 3d 207, 887 N.E. 2d 451 (2008), the trial court granted the school district’s motion for summary judgment holding that the school district was not operating as a common carrier while transporting children on it school buses, and therefore did not owe a heightened duty of care to children sexually abused by its driver. In reversing the trial court, the Appellate Court Fourth District relied upon the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1882 decision in Chicago and Eastern Railroad v. Flexman, 103 Ill. 546, where the Supreme Court stated: “..the contract which existed between appellant as a common carrier and appellee as a passenger, was a guaranty on behalf of the carrier that appellee should be protected against personal injury from the agents or servants of appellant in charge of the train. It alone had the power of removal, and justice demands that it should be held responsible for their wrongful acts toward passengers while in charge of the train.” The Green court in interpretting the Flexman decision stated: “Our supreme court has long held that if an employee of a common carrier intentionally injures a passenger, the common carrier is liable for the passenger’s injuries, even if the employee’s actions were not in his actual or apparent scope of authority.” 381 Ill. App. 3d 207, 887 N.E. 2d 451, 456 (2008).
The decision in Green is very significant because it directly holds: “.. that school districts that operate school buses owe their students the highest degree of care to the same extent common carriers owe their passengers the highest degree of care.” 887 N.E. 2d at 456. Therefore, if a school bus driver intentionally assaults a child on the school bus physically or sexually, the school district is liable even though clearly outside the scope of employment. This decison requires school districts to conduct criminal background checks on its employees prior to hiring them as is required by 105 ILCS 5/34-18.5 and to vigilant in supervising its employees that it places in charge of children. Protection of children is an interest that deserves protection!