If you get hurt while on public transportation — such as a bus, train, or subway — you might be entitled to make a claim against the public transportation company that runs the transport line. This article will explain the most important differences between the law that applies to public transportation companies and the rules in most standard personal injury cases. Find out how to file a bus accident lawsuit and maximize compensation for your severe injuries, pain, and suffering.
From big cities to rural counties, Americans of all ages take billions of bus trips every year. Nearly 500,000 school buses carry 25 million children to school every day.
Add the number of transit buses and private motor coaches on public roadways, and it’s no surprise to learn that over 63,000 bus accidents happen every year.
Seeking injury compensation after a bus accident is more complicated than other kinds of accidents. Here’s what you need to know.
Bus Accident Injuries and Compensation
Just like any other vehicle on the road, bus accidents are typically the result of collisions with other vehicles, or with guard rails, bridge abutments, or other stationary objects.
Bus crashes can happen because of bus driver error, bus company negligence, another driver’s negligence, the weather, or equipment failure.
Other Vehicles: Just like any other vehicle on the road, a bus can be in an accident involving a car, truck, or train. The accident may be due to bus-driver error, or negligence by the other driver.
Solid Objects: Some terrible bus accidents have resulted from collisions with walls, bridges, guardrails, or trees. When the bus crashes, weather or road conditions may be to blame, or mechanical problems with the bus, or factors involving the bus driver.
Criminal Actions: It’s impossible for any transportation agency to protect passengers from criminals completely. However, the company should take reasonable steps to prevent crime from happening on the bus or in the terminal.
Precautions include security measures like hiring security guards, conducting background checks for all personnel, and installing surveillance cameras.
Slip and Falls: Bus companies can’t stop it from raining or snowing or stop people from spilling their drinks.
Slippery conditions are bound to happen, so the bus service should prepare. Bus service providers should know when to de-ice entryways and exits. Bus terminals should have enough workers to mop up wet spots. Most importantly, bus services should stop when the weather makes transporting passengers dangerous.
Common Bus Accident Injuries
Injuries from bus accidents can range from “soft” injuries that will heal quickly to “hard’ injuries that are severe, potentially life-threatening or permanent.
Soft injuries include:
- Bumps and bruises
- Minor cuts and scrapes
- Sprain and strains
More serious hard injuries include:
- Broken bones
- Spine injuries, including herniated disks
- Severed limbs
- Permanent scarring
- Traumatic brain injuries, including concussion
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Fatal injuries
Who Pays Your Compensation?
If you’re injured in a bus accident that was caused by the driver of another vehicle, you’ll file an injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, just as you would after a two-car collision.
But what if the driver of the bus you were riding caused the crash? Or you were in another vehicle that was hit by the at-fault bus driver? Are you out of luck because you were in an accident involving a public transit bus, or a school bus?
Fortunately, the old saying that “You can’t sue the government” is no longer true.
When the Government Owns the Bus
State and federal governments provide most public transportation. For example, a city usually owns public buses. The local school district may own school buses.
Governments in the United States have special protections against lawsuits called Sovereign Immunity, which is a legal term meaning the government is immune from prosecution.
Some legal experts say sovereign immunity only applies to the federal government, while others argue that state and city governments share the same kind of protection from claims and lawsuits.
Fortunately, you can file an injury claim or bus accident lawsuit against any transportation provider responsible for your injuries, even if it’s a government agency.
Injury claims against the government are made under the rules of the Tort Claims Act for federal agencies. Many states and municipalities have adopted their own version of the Tort Claims Act to handle injury claims by private citizens.
Filing an injury claim under the Tort Claims Act is different from filing one against a private person or company. Claims against government agencies have special forms to complete and firm deadlines. If your forms are late or incorrect, you may lose your right to compensation.
Notice of Intent to File a Claim
If you’re considering filing a personal injury claim against a government-owned or managed public transportation authority, refer to the specific laws in your state and municipality.
Depending on where you live, be prepared to file a “notice of claim.”
Use the exact claim form required by the agency responsible for the bus accident. Most claim forms must include:
- Your name and address
- A description of when, where and how the bus accident happened
- A description of your damages, such as your medical costs, lost wages, broken glasses, etc.
- A statement of your intent to seek compensation for injuries and property damage caused by the agency’s employee, for example, the bus driver.
Be sure to submit the notice on time, and to the right place. Keep a copy for your records.
Watch Out for the Statute of Limitations
Every state has deadlines for resolving personal injury claims. If you haven’t settled your injury claim, you must file a lawsuit against the responsible party before your state’s statute of limitations deadline. The statute of the limitations filing period for non-public transportation injuries in most states ranges from one to five years.
If you miss the deadline, you have lost your right to pursue compensation for your injuries, no matter how badly you’re hurt.
Bus Accidents and Common Carrier Laws
People rely on the bus to carry them to and from work, school, sporting events, shopping, medical treatment, and more. Any individual or business licensed to transport passengers for a fee is known as a common carrier.
State and federal laws closely regulate most common carriers. The laws hold carriers to a very high standard for the safety of their passengers, called a duty of care. Strict enforcement of the laws forces common carriers to take special actions to avoid injuries to passengers.
Common carriers’ duties of care include:
- Making entryways and exits safe for passengers (good lighting, no obstructions, etc.)
- Providing security where necessary to ensure the health and safety of passengers
- Hiring qualified bus drivers
- Maintaining bus engines, motors, and other machinery
- Monitoring and correcting bus design flaws
When a bus company or agency violates their duty of care, they’ve become negligent, meaning they did something wrong or failed to do what they’re supposed to do to keep passengers safe.
Examples of negligence that cause bus accidents include:
- Bus drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Bus drivers who aren’t qualified or properly trained
- Drivers working without enough sleep
- Poorly maintained buses and equipment
- Improperly loaded or overloaded buses
Proving Bus Accident Negligence
To win your bus accident lawsuit, you have to prove the carrier’s negligence was the proximate cause of your injuries.
Because common carriers have a higher duty of care to passengers, you won’t need as much evidence to prove your case as you would in other injury claims. But don’t let that stop you from collecting as much evidence as you can.
Evidence to support your case will include:
- Photographs were taken at the time of your injury and several days after
- Witness statements
- Incident or police reports
- Weather reports
- Your written notes about the accident and your injuries
In addition to evidence of fault for the accident, you’ll need to collect evidence of your injuries, such as:
- Your medical bills and records
- Receipts for out-of-pocket expenses
- Proof of your lost wages
Help for Severe Injury Claims
Public transportation continues to be more affordable and safer than traveling by car, but accidents do happen.
If you’ve sustained minor injuries in a bus accident, you can probably settle your claim fairly without the help of an attorney.
Soft tissue injuries like bruises, sprains, and strains can usually be settled directly with the insurance company. You can demand the total of your medical and therapy bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and a small amount for pain and suffering.
On the other hand, severe injury and wrongful death claims are complicated and difficult to settle. High-dollar claims against a government agency are time-sensitive and complex. In bus accident lawsuits, there may be several injured parties fighting for the same portion of funds.
You’ll need the skill and knowledge of an experienced personal injury attorney to handle interpleaders, discovery, expert witness testimony, and more.
Compensation for severe or fatal injuries includes much more than the total medical bills. You’ll need a good attorney to pursue compensation for future care, consortium claims, lost wages, and lost earning potential. You also deserve compensation for your tremendous pain and suffering.
You have too much to lose by handling a bus accident lawsuit on your own. It costs nothing to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your claim.