Types Of Bus Accidents
There are several different types of buses operating in the US today. In the aftermath of an accident, different legal rules apply to each of these various types. Regardless of type, buses are all common carriers. This means that they offer transportation in exchange for a fee, and are legally obligated to do all they can to ensure the safety of all passengers.
Public transportation companies like SEPTA are common carriers, but they enjoy legal protections which other bus types do not. In order to file a suit against a public transportation company, you must satisfy very specific guidelines and file within a short timeframe.
In PA, the statute of limitations for suits against private companies is two years. For public entities like SEPTA, claims must be filed within six months of the accident. Damages are capped at a maximum of $250,000 for individuals and $1 million total for a single accident involving a SEPTA vehicle.
It's especially tragic when a school bus driver violates his or her duty of care for student passengers. According to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety administration, there are roughly 135 school-transportation-related fatalities every year. The vast majority of these fatalities were split between non-occupants such as pedestrians (21%) and occupants of other vehicles (71%).
Like public transit buses, public school buses that are owned by the school district are protected by the same sovereign immunity statutes that protect public transit. However, many school districts use private companies for their school buses which may be held liable for damages without restrictions.
Commercial buses include sightseeing tours as well as private transportation companies such as Megabus and BoltBus. These buses are run by private companies, so pursuing legal action against a bus company is the same as it would be against any other privately owned business. Commercial bus accidents are usually due to either a driver error or maintenance negligence on the part of ownership.
There are a variety of risk factors which commonly cause bus accidents, including:
- Distracted driving - Some bus drivers engage in distracted behavior, such as texting while driving. Drivers also could be distracted by loud and unruly passengers, or by engaging in conversation with passengers. It's the driver's job to direct his complete focus towards the road in order to drive as safely as possible.
- Driver fatigue - Driving while fatigued has been proven to be a form of impaired driving on par with driving while drunk. Bus drivers who work too many shifts or for too long without rest breaks are especially prone to drowsy driving.
- Poor maintenance - Buses are complex machines and they rack up high mile counts through frequent use. These vehicles require regular maintenance and thorough inspections in order to ensure the safety of passengers. Neglecting to do the proper upkeep increases the risk of an accident related to a mechanical failure.
- Other drivers - Buses frequently operate for long shifts and in congested traffic conditions. This means that the average bus driver will likely encounter motorists engaging in negligent behaviors like distracted driving, drunk driving, and drowsy driving on a semi-regular basis. Irresponsible drivers may collide with buses and cause multiple injuries to those on board and other motorists.
Bus-specific Accident Conditions
Obviously, buses are built differently than passenger vehicles like cars, vans, and small trucks. These differences in structure and features create certain unique hazards when accidents happen:
- Lack of seatbelts - Most public transit and school buses lack seatbelts. Because of this, passengers are frequently flung around the interior of the bus when an accident happens. This can lead to serious injuries which may not have been sustained if they were securely strapped in.
- Strong impacts - Since buses are so large, even a slight impact with a pedestrian or another motor vehicle can cause serious damage. For example, a compact car colliding with another compact car's bumper at 10 MPH may only result in a fender bender. But if a bus collided with the same compact car at the same speed, the damage to the car and the passengers inside would likely be much greater.
- Rollovers - Buses have high centers of gravity, which increases the likelihood of devastating rollover accidents. Rollovers account for only about 2% of total traffic accidents, but they contribute to a whopping 35% of passenger vehicle fatalities.
These special circumstances make it even more important for bus drivers to exercise extreme caution. Mistakes may be magnified and inflict more damage than a similar mistake by the driver of a smaller vehicle.
Who Is At-Fault?
In order to file a lawsuit after a bus accident, you must prove negligence. Under PA law, you must satisfy four specific elements of negligence in personal injury cases:
- Duty - The defendant must have owed the plaintiff a duty of care. For example, a bus driver owes all passengers a duty of care that he or she will drive as safely as possible.
- Breach of duty - The defendant violated this duty of care by engaging in behavior which another responsible professional would not have. For example, a bus driver driving while texting.
- Cause - This violation directly contributed to the injuries of the plaintiff.
- Damages - Quantifiable damages resulted from the injury, such as unmanageable hospital bills or lost wages.
Since bus services are defined as common carriers, they have a higher standard of care than other motorists. There are a few possibilities for negligent parties in these accidents, and each case varies depending on unique circumstances.
If the driver was engaged in blatantly irresponsible behavior at the time of the crash, he or she may be deemed negligent and held liable for damages. For example, if the driver fails a field sobriety test or a drug test after the accident, he or she could face criminal charges as well as a civil lawsuit from the victims.
In some situations, bus companies contributed to the negligence which caused the accident. For instance, the company may have inadequately trained the driver, knowingly hired a driver with a history of dangerous driving, or may not have done a background check.
School districts face similar liability concerns as bus companies. They are required to do necessary background checks and to ensure all drivers are licensed. If they fail to do so and a driver causes an accident, the district could face litigation.
Many bus accidents are caused by negligent motorists in passenger vehicles. If another driver breaks traffic rules or is engaged in impaired driving (e.g. driving drunk, distracted, or drowsy) and causes an accident in the process, he or she could be held liable for full compensation for injury victims.
Financial Compensation For Victims
As we've mentioned before, bus accidents are complex cases which depend on unique variables. This is why it's extremely important to get in touch with an experienced bus accident lawyer shortly after the crash. He or she can help to make sense of the specific circumstances of your case and legal complexities unique to these accidents. If you do have a case, you'll be eligible to recover damages for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and loss of earning potential
- Loss of quality of life
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (in cases of wrongful death)