Bus Accident Lawsuits
Settlements, Compensation and Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
Bus accidents are a very dangerous form of motor vehicle collision because of the size of the vehicle and the potential number of occupants. In the United States, 1,887 buses were involved in fatal crashes between 2000 and 2005.* These crashes took the lives of 242 bus occupants.
Negligence was at the root of many of these accidents. Victims of bus accidents caused by negligence are eligible to file claims to receive compensation.
This article will outline the various legal implications associated with bus accidents. To learn more, contact a qualified personal injury attorney.
Bus Accidents and the Law
As a legal matter, a bus accident occurs when a bus is involved in an event or combination of events that causes harm such as property damage, personal injuries and/or death. According to recent data published by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 22.4 percent of bus crashes involved a collision with another motor vehicle. Another 25.8 percent involved collisions with stationary objects and other non-motorized objects. And a whopping 51.7 percent involved incidents where no collision occurred, such as rollovers. Most of these accidents involved an element of negligence, frequently corresponding to a traffic law violation.
Victims of bus accidents usually must prove negligence before receiving compensation from an insurance company or a court award. This means showing evidence that someone acted in a careless and irresponsible manner. Evidence of negligence can include eyewitness testimony, photographs of the crash site and police reports. With the help of a personal injury attorney, a bus accident victim can earn compensation if:
- The accident caused the victim harm
- The accident was caused by someone's recklessness
- The negligent party is responsible for paying compensation
A legal theory known as comparative negligence may come into play if more than one party is at fault. Comparative negligence divides liability between the parties according to the percentage of fault.
Many victims who suffer physical, psychological or financial losses because of a bus accident seek compensation for:
- Lost opportunities due to injury
- Property repairs
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Physical and psychological pain
Insurance adjustors and juries determine the amount of compensation by weighing the severity of the injuries endured and applying this and other factors to preset formulas.
In some states, no-fault insurance laws can affect the amount of compensation a victim receives. No-fault laws were created to discourage trivial lawsuits and injury claims, as well as to help victims receive timely insurance payments for medical expenses and lost income. However, these laws can also make it harder for a victim to gain compensation for other costs. Victims in states with no-fault insurance laws can benefit greatly from the assistance of a personal injury lawyer.
If the injuries result in a wrongful death, the victim's estate and family may also have the right to compensation. In these cases, a wrongful death attorney can assist in determining your legal right to settlement.
Factors Contributing to Bus Accidents
As with other motor vehicle accidents, a number of factors contribute to bus accidents, and many are the result of some form of negligence. Some of the most common are:
Traffic Violations. Most bus accidents can be traced to negligence in the form of one or more traffic violations. Some of the most common violations include improper lane changing, leaving the roadway and driving on the wrong side of the road. In 2004, a bus driver's failure to yield the right of way was the most common traffic violation, followed by straying from the driving lane and speeding, according to (CNTBS). About 8.5 percent of bus drivers involved in fatal bus crashes had previously been convicted for speeding. Charter bus drivers had the most previous convictions. Transit bus drivers had the most previous accidents. A traffic citation issued at the scene of a bus accident strengthens any claims.
Driver Error. Driver error is the reason for most traffic violations that lead to bus accidents as well as car accidents. Factors contributing to driver error include distractions (e.g., talking to a passenger), inattention, fatigue, drowsiness and driving under the influence (DUI). A large percentage of car accident claims are the end result of driver error.
Bus drivers are charged with protecting the lives of their passengers as well as other motorists. As a result, bus drivers who are convicted of DUI may face severe penalties. For more information, refer to our article devoted to the consequences of DUI charges.
Because fatigue and drowsiness lead to accidents, the Federal Carrier Safety Administration (FCSA) requires bus companies to comply with established guidelines known as "hours of service." According to these guidelines, a driver may not be allowed to:
- Drive more than 10 hours after eight successive hours of rest
- Be on duty for more than 15 hours after eight successive hours of rest
- Be on duty more than 60 hours in any seven successive days
- Be on duty more than 70 hours in any eight successive days
When fatigue is proved to be the cause of a bus accident resulting in property damage or injury, the victim(s) may be entitled to compensation.
Most bus drivers involved in fatal accidents in 2004 had a valid Commercial Driver's License (CDL), according to CNTBS. Driving a large 15-passenger van, categorized as a bus by the federal government, does not ordinarily require a Commercial Driver's License. However, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), this may pose an accident risk because such vans require special training and handling. If you have been a victim in a 15-passenger van accident caused by an untrained or inexperienced driver, you may be entitled to compensation.
Equipment Failure. Mechanical failures leading to a bus accident often involve suspension, brakes, defective tires, steering mechanisms or lighting equipment failure. When a mechanical failure leads to a bus accident, negligence often is involved. Anyone involved in the maintenance or design of the bus could be liable for negligence. Major manufacturer design flaws often lead to class action lawsuits that result in large settlements for the victims.
Compartment failure. The Department of Transportation requires that large school buses be compartmentalized and that small buses have lap belts. Compartmentalization provides occupants of large buses with safety zones created by closely arranged, sturdy seats with "energy-absorbing" seat backs. Students seated in these areas while in transit are protected. Standing or not being seated completely within the seating area puts students in jeopardy. If your child has been a victim in a school bus accident where occupants were not required to remain in their seats, your family may be entitled to compensation.
Unsafe seatbelts. Tests conducted by NHTSA have shown that adding lap belts to large buses would not reduce injuries incurred in a head-on crash. The data indicates that adding lap belts could cause additional harm, especially neck and abdominal injuries. If your child has been injured in a bus accident as a result of improper use of seatbelts, or because of a defective seatbelt, he or she may be entitled to compensation.
Roof failure. In 2006, 41 percent of deaths in 15-passenger van accidents were the result of single-vehicle, rollover crashes, according to IIHS. Having a strong roof is of particular importance in such a circumstance. The federal government requires that roofs sustain no more than 5 inches of "roof crush" while supporting 1.5 times the vehicle's weight. More than 5 inches of crush may indicate negligence on the part of the manufacturer.
Other design flaws and equipment failures that contribute to dangerous bus accidents include the following:
- Emergency exit failure
- Structural integrity failure
- Unsafe gas tank
If you have been in a bus accident and believe it was caused by equipment failure or a manufacturing defect, it is important that the bus be preserved in case it needs to be used as evidence in a trial. The same goes for car accidents involving failed equipment (e.g., defective airbags or defective door latches). A personal injury attorney can help you determine if you are eligible for compensation.
Road Conditions. There are a variety of natural and man-made conditions that can affect the conditions of roads. Weather, construction and other factors can change the safety of the roads and cause bus accidents. If an accident is caused by poor maintenance of the road, then the government may be liable for negligence. This can occur when large potholes contribute to collisions, for example.
Victims filing claims against government entities for negligence must be aware of time limitations and specific rules.
Road Design. The design of the road can contribute to riskier driving conditions. Roads that have sharp curves, merging lanes and other potentially dangerous features can make bus accidents more likely to occur. If a bus accident happens because of the road design, any victims of the accident may be eligible for compensation from a government entity.
When You Might Need a Personal Injury Attorney
Although most bus accident claims are filed through insurance companies, many victims choose to seek assistance from personal injury attorneys. A personal injury attorney can evaluate a victim's case and determine if he or she is entitled to more than the initial settlement. Assistance from a bus accident attorney may be necessary if:
- A victim's financial losses from the accident have not been fully reimbursed. This can include medical expenses, lost income, lost prospects and physical and psychological pain.
- The insurance company is delaying the settlement of the claim or denies the claim.
- A government entity denies a claim.
- The negligent party is not insured.
In these complex situations, it is easy for victims to become confused with legal jargon and miss the opportunity to gain compensation for their losses. A personal injury attorney can help victims understand their rights and pursue legal remedies. Check out the laws for DWI in your state.
* Center for National Truck and Bus Statistics (CNTBS) at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMRI) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Collisions affect all types of buses, including transit buses, intercity buses, charter buses, school buses and privately owned buses. Intercity buses and charter buses often are referred to as motor coaches.