Providing bus service to the public is considered a common carrier service. As common carriers, the operators of public buses are subject to a higher standard of care than is imposed on other types of business operations. This is especially true if a public bus is involved in an accident and passengers are injured as a result.
Public bus drivers must get a special driving license called Commercial Driving License (CDL), because they are driving as part of the operation of a business.
Accidents involving public buses are not uncommon. Additionally, because buses lack the safety features that are required in other motor vehicles such as seat belts, a bus accident can result in injuries to numerous passengers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that in 2011, there were about 56,000 bus accidents in the U.S.
Additionally, buses generally spend more of their driving time on highways where speed limits are higher than within the limits of urban areas. The increased speed of buses can cause an increase in collisions, which leads in turn to more serious injuries and sometimes deaths. However, collisions at lower speeds can also cause serious injuries.
When Are Bus Drivers Liable for Injury?
While everyone has a duty to exercise “reasonable care” when operating a motor vehicle of any kind on the roads and highways, in most states the law imposes a higher standard on bus drivers. Instead of reasonable care, bus drivers must exercise “heightened care,” “utmost care,” or the “highest practical care.”
If the bus driver’s actions fall below this standard of care, and the driver’s action causes an accident, then the driver may be held liable for injuries and other losses to passengers or anyone else who is injured as a direct result of the driver’s negligence. In other words, if the injuries of an individual were caused directly by the negligence, or breach of the duty of care, of the bus driver, the driver is liable to compensate the victim for their losses and injuries.
If the negligence of the bus owner has caused injury to a passenger or another person, the carrier company that owns the bus would also be liable for damages. The regulations that govern common carriers such as bus drivers can vary. If a public bus carrier commonly transports passengers across state lines, then federal regulations usually apply. If the carrier transports only locally or within a state, then they are usually regulated by state laws.
Under the law In most states and federal law as well, the doctrine of respondent superior allows an employer to be held liable for the negligence of its employee when that employee was acting within the scope of their employment. So, in addition to the driver of the public bus, the owner of the bus is also liable under the law of respondent superior.
In addition, in most states, public bus carriers have a duty to warn passengers of known dangers that exist in connection with the buses they operate. For example, a bus carrier should warn passengers of possible injury from standing in an aisle while the bus is moving. However, if a passenger can reasonably see that they could be injured in some kind of hazardous situation, the bus carrier may not be liable or may be only partially liable for accidents and injuries caused by the particular hazard.
Finally, if a failure to warn or some other negligence on the part of the bus owner should somehow cause an accident that results in losses and injuries to passengers and others, the owner would be directly liable on a standard theory of negligence.
When Should I Sue a Bus Driver or Common Carrier Service?
If the driver or owner of a bus fails to exercise the proper level of care and their negligence causes injury and loss, the person injured should be able to sue and receive an award of damages that compensates them fully for their losses.
Compensation for injuries will usually include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the bus owner or driver was particularly reckless, anyone who is injured may also be able to recover what is known as “punitive damages.” These are damages that are meant to punish the negligent party and discourage similar conduct on the part of others in the future.
Many states now limit punitive damages in some way, requiring that they bear some relationship to the actual damages awarded to the victim in the case. Examples of the type of conduct that might justify punitive damages are driving while intoxicated or driving at a speed that is far above the speed limit.
What If the Bus Was Run by a Government Agency?
If the bus is owned and operated by a government agency, the issue may be more complicated. Governments are sometimes protected from civil lawsuits by an old legal doctrine known as “sovereign immunity.” This basically means that a government entity cannot be sued without the consent of the government itself.
Most state and local governments, however, have passed laws which allow their agencies to be sued for bus accidents caused by the driver’s negligence or the negligence of the agency that owns and supervises the operation of the bus. However, those laws may put a cap on the damages that an injured party can recover.
Who Is Liable If I’m Injured When Getting off the Bus?
If a person is injured by a car after they get off the bus, neither the bus driver nor the owner, whether a private company or a government agency, may be liable for this injury. The bus driver is liable only for their negligent conduct that occurs within the scope of their responsibility in operating the bus. Accidents that happen outside of the scope of their responsibility do not qualify.
On the other hand, there may be circumstances in which a bus driver or their employer may be liable. This would be the case if careful analysis of the circumstances of the accident were to show that the driver or employer was in fact negligent in some manner and their negligence was the direct cause of injury and loss to the victim. Depending on the circumstance, the driver and/or bus owner may be liable for damages.
So, for example, if a bus passenger is injured in the process of exiting the bus and before they have completely gotten off the bus, then liability on the part of the driver and/or owner is possible. On the other hand, if a person has exited completely and is not one the bus, liability on the part of the driver or owner is less likely.
Should I Contact a Lawyer?
An automobile accident attorney can assist you if you have been injured in a bus accident. They can analyze the particular facts of the accident in which you were injured in order to determine if negligence on the part of the owner or the driver or both was the direct cause of your injury.
Depending on the facts, an experienced personal injury attorney can then apply the appropriate law to determine who should compensate you for your losses. Regardless of which party is specifically responsible, your attorney can help you recover the compensation to which you are entitled.