While buses provide environmental advantages such as a reduction of the vehicles on the road, there are unfortunately a number of opportunities for riders and others to be injured by these massive machines.
These injuries aren’t limited simply to vehicle collisions, and can result from a wide range of calamities including:
- Vehicle collisions
- Improperly operating doors
- Driver error/negligence
- Slippery floor surfaces
- Assaults by other riders
Continue reading to learn a little about some of the issues related to bus accident law and what a person should do if they’ve been injured while riding on a bus.
Common Carrier Laws
Buses operated professionally are known in the legal field as
“common carriers”. They are subject to a number of special laws under the state’s vehicle and civil codes. Section 2100 of California’s Civil Code states:
“A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.”
Common Carriers Can Include the Following:
- County or City Buses
- School Buses
- Charter Buses
- Party Buses
Bus Accidents in the News
In January 2017, the Orange County Register reported on a 2014 accident involving a school bus that crashed into a tree and lamppost after the driver lost control. Parents of five injured children, sued the school district for negligence, claiming that the driver lied to the school district about a pre-existing medical condition that caused him to pass out while driving.
The Register also reported that the driver was facing multiple charges of child abuse and endangerment, which resulted in the infliction of great bodily injury.
In their negligence suit, the parents of the injured children maintained that the school ignored clear warning signs of the driver’s medical condition and argued that the district should be held accountable. As a result of the lawsuit, the school district agreed to pay $10 million to settle with the families of the injured children.
An October 2016 article published in the Los Angeles Times detailed a lawsuit filed against the charter bus company USA Holiday. The suit, filed by two families of persons killed while riding a charter bus as it returned to Los Angeles from a Salton Sea casino, alleged that the driver failed to travel at a safe speed and failed to brake in order to avoid collision.
An investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board revealed that two of the buses’ eight tires lacked sufficient tread. In all, 13 people were killed in the crash, and 31 people were injured. It is believed to be the deadliest accident of its kind in the state in decades. The lawsuit was filed against the bus company as well as the estate of the driver, who also perished in the accident.
In the Commercial Bus Industry, a Lack of Adequate Oversight
Following the deadly charter bus crash detailed in the previous section, the Times published a story on the national agency that oversees charter bus safety. The article noted that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration only has 1,140 employees to oversee 525,000 companies nationwide, and largely relies on state law enforcement to conduct bus inspections, and issue citations for safety violations. Speaking to the Times, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Jim Hall, described federal oversight of bus safety as inadequate.
“We don’t invest in doing an adequate job to protect people from incidents like this,” Hall said. “That individuals who ride buses are at lower income levels of our society concerns me. We should ensure that we have the same safety standards for everyone.”
How a Jury Determines Negligence in Bus Accident Cases
When a jury considers whether or not a bus driver, bus company or public agency is negligent in a bus-related injury, they are required to consider a common carrier’s duty to passenger safety. California Civil Jury Instructions state:
“While a common carrier does not guarantee the safety of its passengers [or property that it transports], it must use reasonable skill to provide everything necessary for safe transportation, in view of the transportation used and the practical operation of the business.”
This jury instruction is supported by previous bus accident cases considered by California courts. In one case, Acosta v. Southern California Rapid Transit, the California Court of Appeals wrote:
“Common carriers bind themselves to carry safely those whom they take into their vehicles, and owe both a duty of utmost care and the vigilance of a very cautious person towards their passengers. Such carriers are responsible for any, even the slightest negligence, and are required to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under all the circumstances.”
An injured person who wins a claim against a bus company, county or city might be entitled to pain and suffering damages, lost wages and in some cases punitive damages.
Thinking About Filing a Claim? Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured in a bus-related accident and are considering filing a claim, it’s recommended you hire a good personal injury attorney to help you succeed. Remember, personal injury law is complex, and bus companies and government agencies know how to deal with lawsuits. Make sure you have a qualified legal mind looking out for your best interests.
It’s also important to remember that the clock starts ticking the moment the injury occurs, and there is only a limited amount of time to file a claim. In certain cases involving government agencies, the statute of limitations for filing your claim is shorter than in other cases. If you have questions about any of the issues outlined in this article, contact our office to see how we can help.