Every one of us probably has a different relationship to buses. Maybe you ride the bus in your city every day to get to work, because it’s faster and cheaper than owning a car. Maybe you only use the bus occasionally, or your child rides to school in a bus. No matter what you may think of when you hear the word “bus”, there is only one definition, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – any vehicle used to transport more than nine people.
Most Americans have likely ridden dozens of different types of buses in their lifetime. From Greyhounds that take you from city-to-city, to school buses, local buses, and more. Buses are convenient, and a common sight in just about every American city.
But there is something somewhat scary about driving a bus. You’re not in control of the vehicle – unlike when you’re driving your car. You’re trusting the bus and the bus driver to get you to your destination safely, and whether or not this happens is pretty much out of your hands. You just have to hope that your driver is competent, well-trained, and can avoid any potential accidents.
The same is true of riding on school buses. You’re trusting the life of your child to a complete stranger. Despite the fact that schools do background checks on bus drivers, and ensure that they are competent, you still have to trust them to take care of your kids when they’re driving them to school – and accidents on school buses that involve many small children are often the most devastating.
This is where bus accident attorneys come in. Winning a case for negligence or a lawsuit against a bus driver or a company can be very difficult, – especially given the fact that many buses are run by the municipal government – but we’ll discuss that later. A bus accident lawyer can help ensure that you get the representation that you need to win a case against anyone who has injured you – whether you were struck by a bus, injured while riding the bus, or were involved in an accident in any other way.
Are Buses Safe To Ride? Are Accidents Common?
Buses are actually very safe. As a rule, most bus drivers are highly-qualified, and drive their routes repeatedly – day in and day out – with no accidents at all.
The licensing standards for bus drivers are actually quite strict, which means they are well-equipped to deal with difficult roadside situations, avoid accidents, and ensure the safety of their passenger. Unlike a driver of a taxi, Uber, Lyft, or any other such people-carrier, bus drivers need a special kind of license, called a commercial driver’s license, or CDL.
This is the same type of driver’s license that is required to operate any kind of large commercial vehicle, such as a semi-truck. Any driver who is operating a large bus that is over 10,000 lbs is required to have a CDL. This includes school buses, city buses, intercity buses, municipal buses, and tour buses, along with charter buses.
While each state issues their own driver’s licenses, this is not the case with CDLs. Due to the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, they are regulated at a federal level. This means that each bus driver must have had an extensive education on how to operate large vehicles, and ensure the safety of bus occupants, pedestrians and passersby, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and other drivers.
In fact, some states and cities require even more specialized training and have different requirements for bus drivers, which may even surpass federal standards.
One thing that bus accident lawyers often look at when bringing a lawsuit against a driver is their track record, and their qualifications – if it was found that the driver was not properly certified, or their certification was not up to date, it may be easier to prove liability. This makes it easier for bus accident attorneys to build a strong case for negligence.
The design of buses is also a key factor that makes them more safe than vehicles, in most cases. Here are a few factors that help ensure the safety of bus occupants.
- Buses are large and easy to see – The first thing that makes buses safer than most passenger vehicles is the simple fact that you basically can’t avoid seeing them. Many vehicle crashes are caused by a person failing to check for cross-traffic, or otherwise not seeing a pedestrian, cyclist, or other driver.
However, it’s extremely hard to miss a bus. They are large, and built with markings and lighting that help them stay highly-visible in all conditions. In the case of school buses, they even have flashing lights and “STOP” signs to ensure that they are not passed when trying to let off their passengers. This means that, as a rule, it’s easier to see buses – and avoid an accident.
- Buses are heavy and high off of the ground – Because buses are so large, heavy, and high off of the ground, there is little chance of them rolling over. They also are less likely to decelerate as quickly when hitting an obstacle like a car, which reduces “g-forces” on occupants.
In addition, there is minimal risk of “intrusion”. Intrusion is the most common cause of car injuries, and it occurs when an impact forces debris or pieces of the car towards a passenger – for example, if the steering wheel is driven into the chest of a person operating a car during an accident. There is little-to-no risk of intrusion when riding a bus, due to its size and design.
- “Compartmentalization” protects occupants – Have you ever wondered why buses – especially school buses – don’t have seat belts? It’s because they’re not necessary. Most buses protect riders with what’s called “compartmentalization”.
The front and the back of each seat is covered with heavy, durable foam. In case of an accident, the occupant is pressed against this foam – holding them in place.
In fact, seat belts were found to have a negligible effect on school bus safety by the NHTSA. They’re simply not necessary.
- Accidents usually occur at lower speeds – An impact at 25 mph is much less dangerous than an impact at 55mph. Almost all buses, except for charter buses and intercity buses, don’t go on the highway at all. This means that, due to the lower speeds, accidents are easy to avoid, and less damaging to occupants, in many cases.
The safety features of a bus and the proper licensing of its driver are both critical things to consider, for bus accident attorneys. While buses are quite safe, it’s important for bus accident lawyers to understand any factors that may contribute to an incident.
Bus Accidents Are Rare – But Can Be Catastrophic
So, now you understand why buses are typically one of the safe modes of transport. Indeed, a child who is riding to school on the bus is 70x more likely to get to school unharmed than they are if they ride in a car or another passenger vehicle – so you can feel good about using the bus transit system!
However, the same thing that makes bus accidents rare and buses, safe for occupants – their size, mass, and sheer momentum – can make accidents exceptionally catastrophic, when they do occur.
- Size and weight of the bus – The same thing that keeps occupants safe puts other motorists and pedestrians at risk. Being hit by a bus while you’re in a car is extremely dangerous. Significant injuries and fatalities are common.
In addition, the size and weight of the bus, as well as its position on the road, can lead to problems with multiple blind spots. If care is not taken by the driver, they can easily cause an accident.
- Lack of seatbelts – Seat belts are, as mentioned, usually not necessary in most bus accidents. But in the extremely rare case of a bus overturning, the lack of seat belts can be lethal. Occupants are “tossed” around the interior of the cabin, hitting each other as well as the bus. And, because the roof of a bus is usually not reinforced, it may “intrude” into the cabin, and crush occupants.
- Accidents occur at low speeds – If a bus impacts an object that can move, like a car, it will “push” it away, because it’s larger and has more momentum. This makes buses safer when hitting these kinds of dynamic objects.
However, when impacting a static object, such as a wall, building, bus stop, or a light pole or guardrail, buses can be more dangerous to occupants. The higher momentum of a bus means that higher g-forces may be experienced, which can lead to serious or even fatal injuries.
You can think of bus accidents sort of like semi-truck accidents. They are much more rare than simple car accidents – but when they do happen, serious injuries and fatalities are much more common. This is why bus accident lawyers specialize in getting restitution and compensation for people who have been injured in bus accidents, or have loved ones who passed due to the incompetence and negligence of a bus driver.
Bus Accidents By The Numbers – How Common Are They?
As we’ve mentioned, bus accidents are much less common than car accidents. There are about 0.14 fatalities per billion miles traveled by buses in America. For comparison, the rate for cars is 11.3 fatalities per billion miles driven.
When hiring bus accident lawyers, it’s important to understand just how rare – and catastrophic – bus accidents can be. Let’s take a look at some statistics behind bus accidents, courtesy of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. We’ll discuss some of the numbers from 2016, which has the most recently-available data.
- 227 buses were involved in fatal crashes in 2016 – This represents buses of all types, including school buses, municipal buses, and tour buses, among others. This is actually a notable, 14% decrease from 2015, where there were 263 fatal bus crashes.
- Bus and truck injuries were at their lowest in 2009 – When grouped together, bus and large truck accidents had the lowest number of fatal crashes from between 2005-2009. However, since 2009, the number of fatal accidents has been increasing. The number of serious injuries from trucks and buses was only 60,000 in 2009 – but in 2016, it had nearly doubled to 119,000.
The cause behind this is still unknown. However, it’s likely that smartphones and distracted driving play a large part. Even commercial drivers can be distracted by phones and other devices – and this can lead to devastating accidents.
- 11,000 buses were involved in crashes that resulted in injuries – In 2014, there were about 11,000 incidents involving a bus that resulted in an injury to the driver, occupants, or any other third parties who were involved in the accident. This means that only about 2% of all bus accidents resulted in fatalities.
- About 25% of fatal injuries occurred to non motorists – In 2014, 92 people were killed by buses who were not occupying any kind of vehicle. 78 were pedestrians, and 14 were cyclists.
Bus accidents are not common. However, they can be devastating and result in significant property damage, loss of life, and pain and suffering when they do occur – especially if a bus hits a non-motorist like a cyclist or a pedestrian. A bus accident attorney can help you get justice if you or a loved one has been hit by a bus, or involved in an accident in any way.
Different Types Of Buses And Their Accident Rates
To understand bus injuries, it’s important to understand the different types of buses, and which ones are the most likely to be involved in accidents. Here is a breakdown of each type of commonly-used bus, as well as how often they are involved in accidents, based on FMCSA data.
- School bus – School buses are typically one of the most safe types of buses. However, they are also the most frequently-used – almost every school district in America offers busing to schools. This means that school buses are usually involved in the most accidents each year. In 2014, there were 90 fatal crashes that involved school buses. This is down from a peak of 129 fatal school bus crashes in 1975.
- Cross-country intercity bus (motorcoach) – This includes any kind of private inter-city bus line such as Greyhound, Megabus, and other such private bus carriers. In 2014, there were 31 fatal accidents involving these buses. Accidents on these kinds of buses are relatively rare – the highest number of fatal accidents on record was 44, in 2013.
- Transit bus – Transit buses include municipal buses, as well as buses run by colleges and universities – any type of bus that is used for intracity transit. In 2014, there were a total of 79 fatal accidents that involved this type of bus. This is down from a peak of 149 fatal accidents in 1980.
- Van-based bus – Statistics for this type of bus began to be gathered in 2011. This can include large school vans and other smaller transports, as well as airport shuttles and other such van-based buses. There were only 8 van-based bus fatalities in 2014, with a peak of 30 in 2012.
- Other bus type (tour, charter, etc.) – All other types of bus are placed in this category, including tour buses, charter buses, and other such non-standard bus types. There were 21 fatal incidents involving this type of bus in 2014, down from a peak of 34 in 2005.
- Bus type unknown – If the type of bus was unknown, or it could not be categorized in any meaningful way, it can be placed in this category. There were only 4 fatal incidents of this type in 2014, down from a peak of 33 in 1985. This likely reflects the standardization of collection of crash data and information – fewer buses are now categorized as “unknown”.
Bus accident lawyers can help you understand which type of bus accident your incident falls under – and pursue the responsible parties to ensure that you can get justice and compensation.
Understanding The Most Common Bus Injuries
There are a number of different injuries that can be caused by a bus accident. Here are some of the most common injuries, both for bus occupants and for people in vehicles, on bikes, or on-foot who have been struck by buses.
- Whiplash – Whiplash is dangerous, but usually non-fatal. It occurs when a vehicle slams on its brakes, or is stopped by an impact with a large object. The momentum of the body carries it forward and the neck “snaps” forward like a whip, hence the term. Whiplash can cause serious neck injuries, though it usually heals without surgical intervention.
- Spinal cord injuries and damage – The spinal column is composed of the spinal cord, vertebrae, and discs of the spine. It is extremely delicate, and can be damaged or severed by a bus accident.
If this happens, paralysis or partial paralysis is very common. An affected individual may lose the use of their arms, legs, or both – leading to lifelong disabilities. This is why it’s important to hire a bus accident lawyer with experience representing disabled individuals.
- Head injuries and trauma – Head injuries can be caused by the impact of the head against a bus seat, roof, or any other area. This can lead to lacerations, as well as a concussion. The brain will continue to accelerate and impact the skull, leading to potentially serious traumatic brain injury (TBI).
TBI can have lifelong implications. It’s a broad-spectrum disorder that is still poorly understood. Symptoms like blurred vision, memory loss, confusion, and difficulty concentrating are common – and can last for months, or even years. Speech, motor function, sight, and other such functions of the brain can also be impacted severely.
- Broken bones – Broken bones are common in people hit by buses, or when a bus overturns or otherwise causes serious trauma to the occupants. A broken bone can lead to significant bleeding, and multiple broken bones can be very difficult to treat.
- Internal trauma and bleeding – Internal trauma is one of the most common injuries in a bus accident. The internal organs may be damaged and start to bleed, leading to a life-threatening situation. In some cases, they may even become ruptured or damaged, which can lead to sepsis and a number of other extremely serious complications.
- Lacerations and bruises – Serious lacerations and bruises can leave scars and are very painful, and are common in occupants of buses after an accident.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder – The experience of seeing a person hit by a bus in a fatal bus accident, or enduring the stress and pain of surviving a bus accident can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can lead to lifelong problems like anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, and a number of other mental and psychological issues.
These injuries are all common in individuals who are involved in bus crashes. Bus accident lawyers are able to understand the trauma, pain, and suffering that a bus crash can cause – so they are able to seek adequate compensation for disability, emotional and physical trauma, and the pain caused by a lethal or otherwise serious bus crash.
Why Do Bus Accidents Happen?
Given that bus accidents are so rare, you may be wondering what actually causes them – and what factors make an accident more likely on a school bus, intercity bus, or municipal bus. Here are some of the most common contributing factors for bus accidents.
- Negligence by the bus company – This is the most common cause of accidents if the accident is due to a mechanical issue or another fault with the bus, such as a tire exploding, or a serious brake issue. Many bus companies turn a blind eye to mechanical failures and federal regulations – and fail to keep their buses safe, properly maintained, and adequate for passenger use.
This can result in serious incidents such as bus fires, or even accidents when major mechanical issues occur while the bus is in motion. If a company has caused an accident by failing to properly maintain a bus, this is a type of negligence.
- Negligent or reckless bus driver – Bus drivers are expected to perform their duties with the utmost care and attention for the safety of their passengers. Any action that they take that violates this duty – such as checking their cell phone or talking to someone on the phone, speeding, operating their vehicle recklessly, or otherwise endangering the safety of their passengers – is negligence on their part. If this negligence causes a serious or even fatal accident, this can often be proven in a court of law by bus accident lawyers – resulting in a settlement for the affected parties.
- Fatigue or inattention – This can be considered a subset of driver negligence. Fatigue is a serious problem that can cause bus accidents – and it’s quite common among bus drivers.
Many people are not interested in becoming bus drivers, which can result in understaffing. This means a driver may have to work long hours, and could be suffering from fatigue. Other factors, such as working split shifts or night shifts, can also contribute to the risk of bus driver fatigue. Fatigue increases the risk of a crash dramatically. 10-20% of crashes involving buses and trucks involve fatigue.
- Negligence by another party – Negligence by another party may also be the cause of a bus crash. For example, if a driver turns in front of a bus, and the bus crashes into the rear of the car, or turns and hits a light pole or another stationary object because it cannot apply brakes in time, this is not negligence on the part of the bus driver – but the car operator.
Bus accidents often involve “shared fault”, which may make it more difficult to pursue a case in a court of law with a bus accident attorney. We’ll discuss shared fault in more detail below.
- Blind spots – Blind spots are a serious problem in buses, and bus drivers are expected to take the necessary precautions to avoid hitting pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers in their blind spots. However, this type of accident can also be the fault of the third party, if they do not take care to give the bus enough room, or otherwise drive recklessly.
In addition to these five, there are innumerable factors that can contribute to a bus accident – including inclement weather, poorly-trained or new bus drivers, and much more. Bus accidents are usually multi-faceted – and in most cases, there is more than one factor at play.
For example, a newer driver may fail to stop in time to avoid a crash, due to rainy weather and poorly-maintained brakes – and it takes an experienced team of investigators and bus accident lawyers to determine where fault lies in these cases.
“Shared Fault” And Bus Accidents
It may seem easy to assign fault in a bus accident – but as we mentioned above, bus accidents are usually far more complex in scope, compared to auto accidents. There can be multiple parties responsible for the accident.
For example, the roads the bus was driving on could have been poorly maintained, resulting in the crash – or the condition of the bus resulted in the crash. Or, another vehicle involved in the crash could have had serious mechanical defects. For example, if a truck crashes into a bus because of brake failure, the manufacturer of the truck could be at fault!
The passengers of the bus may even be at fault, if one of them distracts the bus driver, or assaults or attempts to seize the bus driver’s controls.
This means that it is harder for bus accident lawyers to determine who is at fault – and who should be pursued with a bus accident lawsuit. The best bus accident attorneys are able to understand all of the different factors at play in an accident, and bring a lawsuit against all of the parties who were responsible for the incident.
When multiple parties are pursued in a personal injury case, the damages for the accident are split between them. Whether or not they all share equal responsibility for damages, or must pay proportionality depends on the state in which the case is being pursued by bus accident attorneys.
Equal responsibility means that each responsible party must pay equal amounts – regardless of how much they contributed to the accident. In proportional responsibility states, each party must pay based on the “percentage” of the accident they were responsible for. For example, if a bus company was found to be 30% at fault, and the operator of a motor vehicle was 70% at fault, they would pay damages based on their percent of fault.
This is where comparative negligence comes into play. Comparative negligence refers to plaintiffs who shared some fault in the accident – but are still entitled to damages.
The basic idea of comparative negligence is easy to understand. If you did something wrong which contributed to the bus accident – but you were only responsible for part of it, you are still entitled to damages. But these damages will be reduced, based on how your actions contributed to the bus accident.
For example, let’s say that you were hurt in a bus accident, but did something that contributed to it – such as turn in front of a bus without giving it enough room. However, the bus driver was looking at their phone – and didn’t see you at all.
It’s found by a jury that the bus driver was 70% responsible for the accident – but you were 30% responsible, for failing to observe the rules of the road. Essentially, this means your damages will be reduced by 30%. If you would have won $1 million, you can only receive $700,000.
This means that you can pursue a lawsuit against bus operators even if you were partly at-fault for an accident – which is a very good thing, indeed. Under the old rule of “strict contributory negligence”, anyone who was even partly responsible for an accident was not entitled to damages.
Because of comparative negligence, you can still pursue a bus accident case, even if you were partly at fault. Almost all states have replaced strict contributory negligence with comparative negligence.
“Common Carrier” Law – A Powerful, Federal Tool For Bus Accident Lawyers
Under federal law, buses are recognized as what’s known as a “common carrier”. A common carrier is any type of vehicle which offers to transport any individual who pays the proper fare – unlike private carriers, such as personal vehicles, which do not hire themselves out to the public.
This is a good thing if you have been injured in a bus accident. Common carriers are subject to more stringent standards of care than private carriers. What does this mean?
Let’s take a private carrier for instance. If you own a car, you’re expected to provide “reasonable care” for your passengers. You should do everything that a “reasonable” person would do to ensure the safety of your passenger.
Common carriers have an even more stringent duty to their passengers, called utmost care. The bus driver is required to go above and beyond what a reasonable person would do under normal circumstances to ensure the safety of passengers.
This means that it’s not enough for a bus driver to just drive safely, not break traffic laws, and respond to road conditions properly. They must be prepared for any emergency situation, and take special care to ensure the protection of their passengers.
Here’s an example. If you get in an accident in a private car, and the driver was talking on their cell phone using the “hands-free” phone system on their car, they’re still unlikely to be found negligent. A “reasonable person” can talk on the phone and drive at the same time, and this is done quite often.
However, if a bus driver did the same thing, this would be an example of gross negligence. If a bus driver takes any action that could endanger passengers and distract them, this breaks the “utmost care” requirement for common carriers.
This standard does have some exceptions. For one, it excludes “acts of nature”, like seriously dangerous road conditions. It also only protects bus riders – not pedestrians, motorcyclists, or other drivers. Bus drivers only have to show “reasonable care” for these other parties, just like any other driver would.
Damages From Bus Accidents
As in other personal injury cases, there are three primary types of damages that can be recovered and collected by a bus accident lawyer, should you win your lawsuit or settle out-of-court. These are:
- Economic damages – Economic damages are all of the losses on the part of a plaintiff that can be “strictly quantified”. This includes things such as medical bills, damaged property, lost wages due to injury, and other such things that can be quantified in some kind of economical terms.
- Noneconomic damages – Noneconomic damages are any kind of damage that is less easy to quantify. This includes pain and suffering, stress, inconvenience, physical impairment and disfigurement, and other damages that are more difficult to quantify in strictly-monetary terms.
- Punitive damages – Punitive damages are usually awarded to a plaintiff by a jury in cases of gross negligence, as a way to punish a defendant that has committed a particularly egregious offense.
Responding To A Bus Accident – What Should I Do If I’m In An Accident?
If you’re involved in a bus accident, there are a few things that you should do. Follow these steps – unless you are seriously injured and require transportation to the hospital.
- Call 911 and get to a safe place – In most cases, the bus driver will call 911 to contact emergency authorities. However, if they are unable to do so, you can feel free to make the call and report the incident. Make sure you are safe and away from traffic, fires, or any other potential dangers.
- Gather information about those present at the scene – You should get the names and information of people involved in the incident, such as the driver, operators of other cars, and everyone else at the scene. If you were driving, you must share your insurance information with the bus operator. This is not required if you were a passenger.
- Take photos and talk to witnesses – Taking photos of the accident scene as well as injuries is a good idea, as it will help you build your case in court. You may also want to interview witnesses and bystanders – consider recording them with your phone to ensure you document the incident thoroughly.
- Make a police report – Whether you were partly responsible for the accident or just a passenger or bystander, you may need to make a police report. If you plan on taking legal action, it’s a good idea to get the badge number and contact information of the officers, to ensure you can order a copy of the report.
- Find a lawyer to help you make your case – You should not talk to any lawyers, insurance adjusters, or any other people involved with the bus without your own lawyer present. Bus accident lawyers can help minimize your liability, and ensure that you get the compensation that you deserve. Unless you’ve hired a lawyer, don’t assume that another lawyer or insurance adjuster is “on your side” – chances are, they’re giving you a lowball offer for a settlement, or are trying to trick you into admitting some kind of fault.
At USAttorneys.com, we have relationships with top bus accident lawyers all around the country. Using our website, it’s easy to find a competent and experienced bus accident attorney who can help you get the compensation that you deserve for your pain and suffering, medical bills, and trauma.
Don’t wait. Browse our listings of bus accident attorneys now, schedule a free consultation, and start building your case now.