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Bus Accidents

Bus Accidents

Motor vehicle (including school buses, intercity buses, and transit buses) designed to carry more than ten passengers, not including the driver.” These large vehicles figure prominently in crash statistics. According to the report prepared by the Department of Transportation, there were a total of 247 fatal accidents reported in 2010 and 242 fatal accidents in 2011. Bus accidents also account for 12, 000 injury cases in 2010 and nearly 13,000 the following year. Property damage was reported at 42,000 for 2010 and 43,000 buses for 2011.

From 1975-2009 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had a policy of lumping fatal crash statistics for large truck and bus accidents. Over the years the report shows a decreasing trend in the number of fatalities from large vehicles. This is supported by a news article published in 2008 that stated that “a commercial bus crashes in Utah about every four days, though it rarely results in a fatality.” The report also cited multiple statistics from FMCSA. From 2002 to 2006 there were 462 accidents in Utah involving buses. These 462 accidents divide out to an average of 92 bus accidents per year. Fourteen people were reportedly killed from nine separate bus accidents while 265 bus accidents injured 461 people. The report also stated that of the fourteen fatalities, seven of those deaths occurred in one accident on Mount Nebo in 2002. (For more details of the FMCSA report, read it here.) School buses are also causes of concern among parents whose children use the vehicle to attend school on the daily basis. Unfortunately, this mode of transportation is not exempt from bus accidents on the road. Recently a new report edition of Transportation-Related Crashes was released from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSTA) covering nine years of crashes from 2001 to 2010. NHSTA defines a school transportation-related crash as “a crash which involves, either directly or indirectly, a school bus body vehicle, or a non-school bus functioning as a school bus, transporting children to or from school or school-related activities.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that:

• There were 1,236 fatal school transportation-related crashes from 2001 to 2010
• During that time period, the 1,236 fatal school transportation-related crashes accounted for 0.34% of the total 363,839 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes.
• From 2001 to 2010, 1,368 people died in school transportation-related crashes. This is an average of 137 fatalities per year. The majority (72%) of those people were occupants of other vehicles. Occupants of school transportation vehicles accounted for 7% of the fatalities, while the remaining 21% were non-occupants pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.

• An average of eighteen school-age children dies in school transportation-related crashes each year. On average, six of those are occupants of school transportation vehicles. The other twelve are pedestrians killed by school transportation vehicles or other vehicles involved in school bus-related crashes.
• In 2010 there were 129 fatalities in school transportation-related crashes. Of those, sixteen (12%) were occupants of school transportation vehicles: six drivers and ten passengers.
• Since 2001, 123 school-age pedestrians (younger than nineteen) have died in school transportation-related crashes. Over two-thirds (69%) were struck by school buses, 5 percent by vehicles functioning as school buses, and 26 percent by other vehicles involved in the crashes. There were forty-nine (40%) school-age pedestrians killed in school transportation-related crashes between the ages of five and seven.
The safety measures for school buses have been improved over time in the hope of reducing or avoiding fatal accidents. As always, it is the strict adherence to traffic rules that will make a great impact in reducing these statistics.

Causes of Bus Accidents

Bus accidents may happen as a result of environmental, mechanical, or operational influences. Proving the cause of a crash helps direct liability, so accident victims can effectively pursue the compensation they need.

Environmental Factors

Sometimes, driving on poor roads or in bad weather is unavoidable. However, bus drivers must do their due diligence to avoid an accident in unsafe environmental conditions. Failure to take appropriate action can lead to injuries and deaths in crashes, multi-vehicle pileups, rollovers, and more.
Dangerous weather conditions include (but are not limited to):
• High winds: Blowing snow or dust can decrease visibility and create obstructions in the road. Strong winds can make maneuvering more difficult, requiring more vigilance on the part of the driver.
• Rain and snow: Precipitation can create slippery roads and decrease the distance a driver can see. Drivers may then have much less time to react to a sudden stop or other issue.
• Fog: At any time of the day, fog can diminish visibility and a driver’s reaction time.

Adverse weather can damage infrastructure and road surfaces, creating year-round hazards. Debris can be an unexpected obstruction, requiring smart maneuvers to avoid a crash. No matter the environmental conditions at hand, it’s a bus driver’s job to make safe decisions to protect passengers. Negligence on the road can put the bus driver, passengers, and everyone nearby in grave danger.

Mechanical Factors

Since bus companies concentrate on keeping their costs low and their schedules on time, they may skip necessary maintenance work. Buses could be operating with old brakes or tires with no tread. Other times routine engine care has slacked and engines catch fire and belts snap. A bus accident that injures innocent people could have been prevented with properly managed maintenance schedules. Accident injury lawyers help crash victims by collecting the evidence to show exactly how the bus company is responsible.

Operational Factors

Bus drivers might drive aggressively and put passengers at risk. When a bus driver is experiencing road rage, they may cut off other drivers, switch lanes without signaling, or drive at an unsafe speed. In fact, speeding is a top cause of accidents. Discounted bus companies take great measures to keep their costs down and their schedules on time. The more trips scheduled, the more passengers can travel, and the more money the bus company makes. They may push drivers to make their schedules on time, which might make them go faster. However, in doing so they may carelessly overlook certain procedures and maintain unsafe driving speeds on the road. Drivers may also operate their buses when they are tired, which is extremely dangerous.

Bus Accident Injury Claims

If you’re hurt in an accident involving a city/county-owned bus, your injury claim could face some unique procedural challenges. Buses carrying commuters and students are a common site in cities and towns across the country, and bus companies offer a cheaper long-distance alternative to an airline ticket for thousands of travelers. With so many of these large vehicles on the road, it’s no wonder that they’re involved in around 63,000 traffic accidents every year.

Bus Accident Injuries

Any traffic accident can run the gamut from low-speed fender bender to catastrophic collision, and bus accidents are no exception. So it follows that injuries stemming from bus accidents fall across the spectrum of seriousness, from whiplash-type soft tissue injuries, to serious head trauma and broken bones. There are also a few added safety risks that tend to crop up when it comes to bus accidents, owing to the characteristics of most buses and the practical aspects of bus travel. First, the risk of a tip-over or rollover accident is higher for buses than it is for standard passenger vehicles. Second, many buses don’t feature any form of safety restraint or supplemental safety device in other words, no seat belts or airbags. So whether or not the risk of a bus accident is lower when compared with crashes involving other forms of ground transportation, the chances of serious injury are higher when a bus accident does actually occur. With most kinds of accidents, if you’re negotiating a personal injury settlement with an insurance carrier or even filing a personal injury lawsuit in court, the procedure is pretty straightforward (although the claim itself may not be).

In some situations, the crash will be caused by the driver of another car or truck on the road. In that case, if you’re injured as a passenger on the bus, you can make a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurer, seeking compensation for losses (“damages”) like medical expenses and lost income, plus non-economic losses like “pain and suffering.” If the bus driver is at fault, however, this is when the law can get complicated. That’s because many buses are owned or operated by government entities, like school districts and public transportation bureaus. And filing an injury claim with a government body is more complicated. The procedure varies from state-to-state and jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction, but you typically must start by filing a “notice of claim” or similar paperwork with the government entity that is potentially liable for the bus accident. And you’ll usually need to file your documentation within a relatively short period of time.

Filing a Notice of Claim with the Government

Again, the specific procedural rules will vary depend on where you live, but typically the “notice of claim” or similar filing must include:
• a statement of the claimant’s intent to ask for compensation for injuries and/or property damage caused by the negligence of the government entity or agency, or caused by an officer, employee, or agent of the government
• a description of the time, place and circumstances giving rise to the claim (details related to the bus accident, in other words)
• the nature of the claimant’s losses (description of injuries, property damage), and
• the claimant’s name and address.
Each state or municipality has its own time limits for filing an injury claim, and you may need to submit your claim using a certain form. Claim filing time limits and other filing rules are important. If you miss a filing deadline or don’t submit the right paperwork, you may lose your right to file a lawsuit. And there may be special time limits that apply if a person has suffered fatal injuries as a result of a bus accident. Speak to a local personal injury attorney if you are unsure about the time limits or how to file the proper paperwork.

Besides injuries suffered as a bus passenger, the same claim filing procedure will apply if you were driving a vehicle that was hit by a government-owned bus.

Fault Factors in Bus Accident Cases

Sometimes, to help determine liability (fault) for a bus accident, some special investigation will be needed. A number of factors may cause or contribute to a bus accident, including:
• bus drivers working while fatigued
• drivers who have not been adequately trained or properly screened for employment
• drivers who are under the influence of intoxicants
• buses that are overloaded or improperly loaded, and
• buses and equipment that is not properly maintained.
After any kind of vehicle accident, it’s important to get proper medical treatment. This way, you put your health first, and later on you can use your medical records and bills to document and support any injury claim you decide to make. Bus accidents are not incredibly common, but when they do occur, they can have devastating results. Buses are generally more difficult to maneuver, harder to stop and less safe than other vehicles. Buses are also often lacking important safety features, such as seat belts and airbags. When bus passengers are involved in a bus accident, they can suffer serious and life-threatening injuries. These victims will likely face extraordinary medical expenses that will only be exacerbated by forced time away from work for a period of recovery. These victims must often turn to a personal injury claim for damages against the person(s) responsible for the bus accident. Unlike a car accident, determining liability in a bus accident can be difficult. In some cases, bus accidents may be caused by a third party. Potentially liable parties could include other drivers on the road, pedestrians, motorcyclists, or bicyclists. Bus accident victims can name these other parties as defendants in a personal injury lawsuit if they exhibit negligence. Victims must prove that the third party had a duty to prevent harm, breached that duty in some way, and that they were harmed as a result.

Third parties could breach this duty by changing lanes without using a turning signal, failing to yield when merging, driving while using a cell phone or electronic device, or following a bus too closely. In other cases, bus accidents may be caused by the bus driver. Bus drivers have a difficult job and have a greater responsibility than other drivers to operate the vehicle safely. Buses are considered common carriers, which imposes a greater duty of care on operators. Rather than exhibiting reasonable care, common carriers must exercise “the utmost caution … or the highest degree of vigilance, care, and precaution.” If a bus driver is even the slightest bit negligent, he or she could be liable for injuries that result. Examples of bus driver negligence could include driving while intoxicated or fatigued, improper or inadequate training, permitting the vehicle to become overloaded, and texting while driving. Personal injury lawsuits can become more complicated when the bus driver is at fault. This is because many buses are owned and operated by the government. School buses and city buses are prime examples. When bus accidents are caused by the bus driver, victims may face difficulties in recovering compensation. There is a different process for filing a claim against the government. It is important to remember that each state will have slightly different procedural rules for filing a claim against the government. If a bus accident victim wants to file a claim against the bus driver and/or government entity, he or she will likely have a very short window of opportunity to do so. The statute of limitations in personal injury cases against the government is generally much shorter than other personal injury lawsuits. In some states, this statute of limitation can expire in as little as six months after an accident. This means that victims must move quickly.

In most bus accident cases, a victim will have to file a claim directly with the local government entity that is responsible for operating the common carrier. The claim must generally state the specific person, entity, or employee that was allegedly negligent; a thorough description and explanation of the accident; and the victim’s name. Victims must make their case for damages in this claim. The government must review and respond to the bus accident victim’s claim. If the claim is accepted, the government will work with the victim to compensate them for their injuries. If the claim is rejected, the victim must then file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court. The process will then resume a normal trajectory and proceed as any other personal injury case. The government must essentially be given the opportunity to deal with the claim in-house before victims can attempt to take them to court. There are, of course, a number of other potentially liable parties in bus accident lawsuits. Many states permit victims to recover compensation from more than one negligent party. As a result, it is important to thoroughly investigate each individual case to determine each and every possible avenue for recovering compensation.

Bus Accident Law

Bus Accident Law falls under common carrier law, because buses offer transportation services to people as part of a business. A common carrier is an individual or business that transports people, goods, or services for a fee, and offers its services to the general public under license or authority provided by a regulatory governmental body. Common carriers can be private companies or public entities. These laws are regulated on the local, state and federal level. The Federal government regulates common carriers that transport passengers or cargo across state lines under the Interstate Commerce Act, and individual states regulate travel within a state. Other modes of transportation that fall under the category of common carrier include school buses, taxis, trains, light-rail, trolleys, cable cars, tour boats, cruise ships, ferries, airplanes, airport shuttles, and, in some states, limousines. Common carriers have a legal responsibility to show a higher duty of care since they offer their services to the public for a fee.

While non-commercial drivers must operate under reasonable care, a common carrier must use the highest degree of care and vigilance for the safety of its passengers, and the public. Failure to adhere to that higher duty of care can be considered negligence. Therefore, if you are a bus passenger and injured as the result of an accident, special rules apply. If a bus accident is due to the negligence of the carrier; such as speeding, fatigue, maintenance failures, tire failures, or inadequate bus driver training; the carrier is liable for damages under personal injury or wrongful death tort law. When minor children, ill or disabled persons are injured as passengers on a bus, special rules may apply as well. It is important to note that because many common carriers are governmental agencies, usually very specific and limited time frames apply for filing a claim for these types of cases. This time period is called a statute of limitations. In addition, with governmental entities, there may also be special notices that must be filed within a certain time period before filing a legal claim. Therefore, it is advisable if you or a family member has been injured due to a bus accident, that you consult with an attorney experienced in common carrier law.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a bus accident in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

Ascent Law LLC

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