On the night of Thanksgiving, 2018, a bus carrying members of the University of Washington marching band flipped on the highway while en route to Washington State University in Pullman for the annual Apple Cup football game between the two rival teams. According to a report from People, 46 passengers plus the bus driver sustained minor injuries after the accident, which was caused by the driver losing control of the vehicle on a patch of ice. The bus was one of six traveling as a group across the state from one university to the other.
Each day, people in Washington rely on buses as a means of transport for a variety of reasons. Some of us ride them to work, and some of us send our children to school on them. We use them as tourists, we use them for shopping, or—like the above example—for team travel. With so many people relying on buses and placing our safety, and the safety of our loved ones, in the hands of a bus driver, it is no wonder that bus drivers are held to higher standards of care. If you’ve been injured in a bus accident, read on for important information.
The entities who operate buses are considered common carriers in the eyes of federal and state law. What this means is:
- They are in the business of transporting people or goods from one place to another for compensation.
- They are held to the “utmost duty of care” for their passengers, meaning they are required by law to avoid taking risks that may cause harm to passengers and they must provide adequate compensation for passengers who become injured while riding on their buses.
- Some frequently seen examples of negligence in lawsuits against bus companies include poorly maintained buses, buses that are overloaded or improperly loaded, and bus drivers who are fatigued, inadequately trained, or under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
- In many cases, the common carrier who is operating the bus is a governmental entity. However, other types of buses are operated by private companies.
- Bus drivers are required to obtain a commercial driving license (CDL) in order to transport passengers.
Injuries Caused by Bus Accidents
According to 2017 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, intercity buses accounted for 13 percent of our nation’s fatal bus accidents in one year. School buses made up 40 percent of the fatal crashes and 35 percent involved transit buses. In 2017, 73 school buses and 13 transit buses were in fatal crashes. There was a total of 232 fatal accidents involving buses in the year, which is the lowest number since 1975.
While buses tend to be involved in far fewer accidents than other vehicle types, two features of buses may lead to particularly severe injuries:
- High center of gravity: The construction of a bus causes it to be more prone to rollover accidents.
- Lack of seat belts and other protective equipment: Without seat belts or airbags, bus passengers risk being thrown from their seats during an accident or coming in contact with parts of the bus that could cause injury, including seats and windows.
Some of the injuries commonly suffered in bus accidents include:
- Broken bones
- Internal bleeding or organ damage
Frequently, individuals who have been injured in a motor vehicle accident do not feel injured immediately following the accident, but later discover that they have significant injuries. There are many factors that may cause this, including the adrenaline from the accident briefly interrupting the victim’s ability to feel pain, injuries that present delayed symptoms, and shock. It is important to seek a medical evaluation promptly following any motor vehicle accident in order to rule out or detect serious injuries.
Research shows that crash severity in bus accidents increases depending on the age and gender of the driver, in addition to other factors. Increases were seen in the following scenarios:
- Young bus drivers, under the age of 25.
- Drivers over age 55, and most predominantly drivers over 65.
- Female drivers
- Posted speed limits that are very high, over 65 miles per hour, or very low, under 20 miles per hour.
- At intersections.
- In the presence of inattentive or risky driving.
Washington Laws About Bus Accidents
When an injured passenger or the injured driver of another car wishes to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for damages caused by a bus accident, Washington law required that the suit be filed within three years after the date of the accident. The exception to this is if the bus is operated by a governmental entity. In that case, victims must first file a notice with the Washington State Office of Risk Management. After submitting the form, the victim must wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit, giving the office time to investigate the claim and even offer a settlement. Because the required form is complicated and the office can deny the claim completely if it is not filled out properly, those wishing to file a suit against a governmental entity offering a common carrier bus service should consult an experienced bus accident attorney.
Washington does not place a cap on compensation in personal injury lawsuits that arise from bus accidents. Some of the potential damages that you may seek compensation for include:
- Current and future medical bills
- The cost of rehabilitative services
- The cost of accessibility adaptations to the home or vehicle
- Lost wages and the loss of future earning capacity
- Permanent injury or disability
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage or loss
- Scarring and disfigurement
If you’ve lost a loved one in a bus accident, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to recover damages such as:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical bills incurred before death
- Loss of future wages and benefits
- The cost of household tasks that the decedent used to perform
- Loss of companionship and consortium
- Pain and suffering incurred by the decedent before death
Wrongful death lawsuits may be filed on behalf of the decedent’s family members, including spouses, registered domestic partners, children or stepchildren. If none of these family relationships exist with the decedent, then other family members are allowed to file the suit, including parents, sisters, or brothers who depended on the decedent for support. In cases involving the death of a child, parents who regularly contribute to the support of a child may participate in a wrongful death action. Like personal injury lawsuits, wrongful death suits in Washington must be filed within three years.
Liability in Bus Accidents
In order to obtain a successful settlement or award through a lawsuit, one must prove liability due to negligence on the part of at-fault parties. In bus accidents, determining liability becomes a bit more complicated. Potential liable parties may include:
- The bus driver, if his or her actions led to the accident and if he or she is employed by a private company operating as a common carrier.
- A private bus company, who would share liability due to common carrier status.
- A governmental entity that has employed the bus driver, if the driver’s actions caused the accident.
- Another driver, if his or her negligence caused the accident.
- The manufacturer of the bus or its parts that may have been improperly installed or failed to work as they should.
- The individual or company responsible for maintaining the bus, if their negligence caused the bus to malfunction.
Sometimes, those injured in an accident are partially to blame for the accident. Washington uses a pure comparative negligence approach when determining liability. What this means is that even if you had some responsibility for the accident, you are still able to seek damages from other at-fault parties. However, any award you receive will be reduced by the percentage of blame the court concludes you bear. For example, if you were found to have 20 percent responsibility for the accident, your award would be reduced by 20 percent to account for your own liability.
Bus Accidents in the News
A bus carrying individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities crashed head-on with a jeep. According to a report, the bus was traveling eastbound with passengers at about 7:30 in the morning when it moved over to keep a safe distance from a group of joggers on the shoulder of the road. It collided head-on with the westbound Jeep, sending both drivers to the hospital with complaints of head pain. Four of the passengers on the bus were also transported to the hospital as a precaution. Neither alcohol or speed were considered factors in the accident, and neither driver was ticketed.
Parents are demanding answers after they say they weren’t properly notified of a school bus crash. As reported by Fox 61 news, officials are still investigating the accident involving a middle school bus that was caused when the driver careened off the road to avoid hitting a deer. The school district states that the students continued on to school where each one was evaluated by the school nurse and given the opportunity to speak to their parents. Initially, officials had reported that the only injury sustained in the accident was a minor leg wound to the driver. However, since then, one child has been reported as suffering from a mild concussion and pain in her head, back, neck, and hip. Parents of two of the students who say they were not contacted expressed dismay at the seriousness of the accident, which was not a little fender bender. The school bus is owned by All Star Transportation, who declined to be interviewed for the report.
Middle school band students, choir students, and their chaperones returning home from a field trip on a chartered bus, were seriously injured in a crash, according to a report from WXYZ news. The bus reportedly ran off the road while exiting the interstate and flipped. It was initially believed that none of the students were seriously hurt. However, medical exams revealed significant injuries including a broken neck, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and a broken hand. As of the report, the accident remained under investigation. Ground Travel Specialist, who owned the bus, declined to comment on the investigation, but wished a speedy recovery for everyone who was injured. Concerned parents stated that they look forward to knowing the results of the investigation and what exactly caused the bus driver to run off the road.
According to an article, one person died after their vehicle collided with a metro bus. The accident occurred at about 8 p.m. when the Silver Line Metro Bus was traveling west in the HOV Express Lane when it suffered an electrical problem that caused it to stall. The bus was then rear-ended by the vehicle traveling behind it. The vehicle then caught on fire and was fully engulfed within a short period of time. The driver of that vehicle was pronounced dead at 8:35 p.m. Neither the bus driver or the four passengers on the bus were injured. At the time of the report, there was no further explanation for the electrical issue and the accident remained under investigation.
Your Next Step—Call Boohoff Law Now
Bus accidents are complicated matters from a legal standpoint. While passengers are owed a higher duty of care from bus drivers due to the common carrier status, there are many considerations, including multiple potentially liable parties and insurance policies that could be in play. In order to obtain the highest amount of compensation available to you, it helps to have an experienced bus accident attorney on your side. Boohoff Law, P.A., is ready to fight for your right to recover damages. For a free consultation and case review, contact Boohoff Law online or by calling (877) 999-9999.
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