Bus accidents can be devastating to victims, leading to severe injuries and financial hardships. Determining liability in such cases is crucial for seeking justice and compensation. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the key players who can be held responsible for a bus accident, the factors that make a bus driver liable for injuries, the timeframe for filing a lawsuit, the types of damages you can claim, associated costs, and the indispensable role of a bus accident lawyer.
Alarming statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration underscore the pressing issue of bus accidents on American roads. Approximately 183 bus crashes occur daily, and over 27,000 injuries were reported in 2018. The statistics are a stark reminder that bus accidents have far-reaching consequences, impacting not only the bus’s occupants but also other motorists and pedestrians.
Who can be held liable for a bus accident?
As the individual entrusted with the safety of passengers and others on the road, the bus driver is at the forefront of potential liability. Instances of negligence, such as failing to yield, ignoring traffic signals, or driving under the influence of alcohol, can make the bus driver at fault for a bus accident.
Bus drivers can be held liable for injuries in the following situations:
Failing to yield the right of way
If a bus driver causes an accident by failing to yield the right of way, they can be held responsible for any resulting injuries.
Ignoring stop signs or red lights or failing to observe other rules of the road
Disregarding traffic signals, and other moving violations such as speeding, can firmly establish the bus driver’s liability in an accident.
Driving under the influence of alcohol
Operating a bus under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offense that can lead to legal consequences for both the driver and the bus company.
The bus company can be liable not only for its direct actions but also for the actions of the driver or other employees under the legal principle of vicarious liability. The company itself might be found negligent in the way it hired or trained drivers or the procedures it used for maintaining the buses. Vicarious liability further extends the company’s accountability for the actions of its employees, including bus drivers. Under the principle of vicarious liability, the bus company can be liable for damages if a bus driver is found negligent, even if the company itself has done nothing wrong.
The National Safety Council’s data reveals that nearly 70 percent of school bus accident casualties were occupants of other vehicles. That statistic highlights the potential role of other drivers in causing bus accidents. As discussed further below, determining fault among multiple parties can be challenging, but it is crucial for an equitable distribution of responsibility.
City or state entities
Road conditions and infrastructure play a pivotal role in bus safety. Data from the National Safety Council shows 109 people died in school bus collisions in 2019. If poor road maintenance or faulty traffic signals are identified as contributing causes of a bus accident, city or state entities responsible for maintaining safe road conditions may be wholly or partially liable.
If a government entity or one of its agencies operates the bus involved in a collision, they assume responsibility for injuries and losses stemming from the crash. However, it’s important to note that government entities typically enjoy "sovereign immunity,” which can limit the recoverable amount of damages in claims against government entities, including claims involving public buses. The degree to which government entities enjoy sovereign immunity varies from place to place. An experienced personal injury attorney can advise you about the applicable law of your jurisdiction.
Can more than one party be liable for a bus accident?
In the complex landscape of traffic accidents involving buses, determining fault often involves considering legal concepts such as comparative negligence and joint liability.
Comparative negligence recognizes that multiple parties may share responsibility, and compensation is adjusted based on the percentage of fault assigned to each party. For example, if a collision involves both a bus driver and another driver at fault, then the compensation for the injured party is distributed proportionately according to their respective degrees of fault.
In joint liability, multiple parties are collectively responsible for the full damages. In a bus accident involving multiple at-fault parties, each party can be held responsible for the entire sum of damages if one party cannot fulfill their share. This legal framework ensures that the injured party can seek full compensation even if one party is unable to contribute.
Given these legal intricacies, it becomes crucial to seek professional legal guidance, particularly in cases involving shared liability. A proficient bus accident lawyer can navigate the complexities of the situation, advocating for fair compensation considering nuances of legal concepts such as comparative negligence and joint liability.
How long do I have to file a bus accident lawsuit?
Prompt action is essential after a bus accident. The statute of limitations determining the timeframe for filing a lawsuit varies from one state to another but is typically two to three years from the date of the accident. Missing this deadline results in the forfeiture of the right to seek compensation. In cases involving public or government-owned buses, notification of a claim may need to occur within a shorter timeframe, such as 180 days (six months), to preserve the right to legal action.
Damages to claim in a bus accident
When pursuing compensation after a bus accident, understanding the different damages that can be claimed is crucial. Final compensation may vary based on the facts of the accident, the parties involved, and the location where the accident occurred.
Medical expenses : Costs related to hospital stays, surgeries, medications, rehabilitation, and other treatment for injuries sustained in the accident
Property damage : Repair or replacement costs for the damaged vehicle and any personal belongings affected in the accident
Lost wages : Compensation for any future income lost due to injuries or disability that prevent the victim from working
In contrast to economic damages, noneconomic damages pertain to intangible losses that are challenging to quantify precisely. These losses include the following:
Pain and suffering : Compensation for the physical discomfort, pain, and distress experienced as a result of the bus accident
Emotional distress : Damages awarded for the emotional impact of the accident, including anxiety, depression, or other psychological effects
Loss of enjoyment of life : Compensation for diminished quality of life, including the inability to engage in activities that the injured person once enjoyed
In cases involving public transit buses, noneconomic damages in a claim against the government may not be allowed or may be capped.
While punitive damages are rare in bus accidents, they can be sought if someone associated with the bus company acted with malice or reckless disregard for safety. For example, punitive damages are considered if a bus company executive knowingly ignored critical maintenance issues, resulting in a severe accident. However, it’s essential to note that punitive damages, even when applicable, may be subject to caps in cases where the lawsuit is against a government entity.
How much does a bus accident claim cost?
The costs of pursuing a bus accident claim primarily include attorney fees and other litigation costs, and these expenses will vary from one case to another.
Attorney fees : The main cost in a bus accident case is the attorney fee, typically arranged on a contingency basis. In this arrangement, payment is contingent upon recovering a settlement or winning at trial, at which time the attorney receives a percentage of the amount recovered, usually between 20 and 40 percent (with an average of 33 percent). The exact percentage is agreed to in writing at the time you hire the attorney. It’s important to discuss and clarify with your attorney the specifics of the contingency fee agreement, including how expenses will be handled in the event of a trial loss or failure to settle.
Other litigation costs : Additional costs might include deposition expenses, expert witness fees, filing fees, travel costs, court-related expenses, administrative charges, and miscellaneous costs. The total varies based on case complexity, location, and trial involvement. Clear agreements with your attorney are crucial to determine which party covers these costs and whether you will need to pay any of them up front.
How can a bus accident lawyer help with your case?
An experienced bus accident lawyer will start with a thorough investigation to gather vital evidence. Your attorney should manage settlement negotiations with parties and insurance companies and be ready to transition to the courtroom if necessary. Their legal expertise ensures effective case presentation, safeguarding your rights and navigating state-specific complexities. Whether through negotiation or litigation, the ultimate goal is to secure rightful compensation after a traumatic bus accident.
What should I do immediately after a bus accident?
If possible, call 911 and reach out to medical personnel. In case of serious injuries, try to lie in a position that limits blood loss. Wait for emergency personnel to help you. In your injuries are minor, seek out medical attention for yourself and others. Document the scene, gather witness information, and contact law enforcement to file a report if possible.
Why do I need a bus accident lawyer?
A bus accident lawyer is essential for navigating legal complexities. Lawyers conduct thorough investigations, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if needed, ensuring you receive fair compensation.
What compensation can I seek after a bus accident?
Compensation can include economic damages (medical expenses, property damage, lost wages) and noneconomic damages (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life).
How long do I have to file a lawsuit for a bus accident case?
In most jurisdictions, you have a two-to-three-year window from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Act promptly, as failing to meet this deadline may result in losing the right to seek compensation. In accidents involving public buses, there may be even earlier legal requirements to notify the government of your claim.
What evidence is crucial in a bus accident case?
Crucial evidence includes witness statements, accident reports, photographs of the scene, surveillance footage, and medical records. Timely collection of this information strengthens your case. Depending on the facts of your case, you may also need expert witnesses.
What if the bus company or driver claims it was not their fault?
Your lawyer will investigate and present evidence to establish liability. The more evidence you have that demonstrates fault, the stronger your claim will be.
Who can be held liable for a bus accident?
Potentially liable parties include the bus driver, the bus company or owner of the bus, other drivers on the road, and the city or state entity responsible for road conditions.
Are bus companies responsible for accident damages?
Yes, bus companies can be held responsible, especially if evidence indicates insufficient training or vehicle maintenance. The principle of vicarious liability may extend the accountability of the bus company to make it liable for the negligence of the bus driver. However, damages may be limited by law in cases involving public or government-owned buses.
Can drivers be held liable for bus accidents?
Bus drivers can be held liable, particularly if their actions, such as failing to yield or driving under the influence, contribute to the accident.
Do passengers have rights in bus accident cases?
Yes, passengers have rights and can seek compensation for injuries and damages resulting from a bus accident. A bus accident lawyer can guide them through the legal process.