Learn the 5 critical steps you should take following a bus accident in Alabama
There are roughly 66,000 bus accidents every year in the United States, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While that might sound like a lot, it’s actually only a small fraction of total crashes. To put this number in perspective, there are more than 6 million car accidents every year.
Of course, the fact that bus accidents are less common than car accidents serves as little consolation for those who are injured in a bus crash—or if you’ve lost a loved one in a fatal bus wreck.
In this article, we do our best to clear up any confusion and ease any anxiety you may have following a bus accident in Alabama.
Common causes of bus accidents in Alabama
The term “bus” refers to large private and public vehicles that transport passengers for a fee. In Alabama, this includes:
- Public transportation buses (MAX Transit, WAVE transit)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Greyhound, Megabus)
- School buses
- Airport and hotel shuttle buses
- Tour buses
- Private charter buses
Buses crash for many of the same reasons as other motor vehicles accidents. For example, common causes of bus accidents include:
- Distracted driving (texting while driving, etc.)
- Reckless driving (speeding, etc.)
- Poor road conditions or dangerous obstructions
- Mechanical failure
In addition, there are several factors that are more common in bus crashes than other motor vehicle crashes, such as:
- Driver fatigue
- Inadequate training
- Distractions caused by passengers
- Improper maintenance
Bus drivers are typically experienced, heavily screened, and aware that a single mistake could cost them their job. As a result, it’s uncommon (although certainly not impossible) for a bus accident to be caused by a bus driver’s reckless actions.
Are bus accidents more dangerous than car accidents?
You’re about 10 times more likely to be injured in a car crash than a bus accident, according to a report issued by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
Despite often not having seat belts, buses are generally safer than cars because:
- Bus drivers are professionally trained
- Bus drivers are screened
- Bus drivers drive slower and more predictably than other drivers
- Buses are more heavily regulated than other vehicles
- Buses are larger and heavier than most other motor vehicles
Although it’s statistically quite safe to be a passenger on a bus, injuries and even fatalities can (and do) occur. The most common serious injuries caused by bus accidents include:
- Head injuries
- Lower extremity injuries
- Strains and sprains
- Contusions and abrasions
A bus carrying children from the Tallapoosa County Girls Ranch, a ranch that provides a home for abused children, was involved in an 18-car pileup on Interstate 65 in Butler County, Alabama.
The accident, which occurred as Tropical Storm Claudette swept through the state in June 2021, is believed to have been caused when the bus hydroplaned and became sandwiched between 2 tractor-trailers.
Eight children riding the bus, ranging in age from 4 to 17, were killed.
"We lost 8 young people that can make a difference in our world, we lost 8 young people that didn't have a chance to have their own children, we lost 8 young people that can't break the cycle of where they've been and change it for their children," said Alabama Sheriffs Youth Ranches CEO Michael Smith.
The only person on the bus who survived the crash was the ranch director, who had been driving. The director lost 2 of her own children in the crash and she was taken to the hospital in serious but stable condition.
Additionally, a 29-year-old father and his 9-month old daughter were killed while riding in another vehicle involved in the crash.
Establishing fault in an Alabama bus accident
In most cases, to recover damages after a bus accident, you need to prove that someone else was at fault for the accident.
How you establish fault depends on the nature of the accident. Most bus accidents fall into 1 of 4 categories:
- Bus accidents caused by other drivers
- Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
- Bus accidents caused by passengers
- Bus accidents caused by defects
1. Bus accidents caused by other drivers
The majority of bus accidents are caused by other drivers on the road.
If you’re a passenger injured in a bus accident caused by another driver on the road, you need to prove that the other driver was negligent in order to recover damages. To do this, you must establish 3 things:
- Duty. You need to prove that the other driver owed you a duty of care. All drivers in Alabama owe all others on the road a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care.
- Breach. You need to prove that the other driver breached their duty. In other words, you need to establish that the other driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care (for example, the driver was texting while driving or following the bus too closely).
- Causation. You need to prove that you were injured as a result of the driver’s breach. In other words, but for the driver’s breach, you wouldn’t have been injured.
As with car accidents, you can file an insurance claim with the other driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
Four students were killed and 24 were injured.
A report published by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the driver of the Toyota Celica caused the accident when they lost control while attempting a dangerous passing maneuver around a curve.
The families of the 4 students killed in the accident filed lawsuits against the bus company, the bus driver, and the driver of the Toyota Celica. The lawsuits were settled in 2008.
2. Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
If you’re injured in a bus accident caused by a bus driver, you’ll need to establish that the bus driver was negligent in order to recover damages.
Establishing that a bus driver was negligent is easier than establishing that the driver of a car was negligent. This is because bus drivers are considered “common carriers” in Alabama, which means they are held to a high standard of care.
Whereas most drivers have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others on the road, bus drivers must exercise extraordinary care.
An injured passenger can file an insurance claim against the bus driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the bus company. Bus companies are typically liable for the actions of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
3. Bus accidents caused by passengers
Buses in Alabama are typically equipped to carry between 40 and 80 people. In rare instances, 1 or more of these passengers may cause a bus accident. For example, 2 passengers may get into a fight that spills to the front of the bus and interferes with the driver’s ability to drive the bus.
Similarly, you may sustain an injury on a bus caused by a passenger. For example, a passenger may carelessly leave their belongings in the aisle for you to trip over.
If a passenger causes your injury, you can sue the passenger for negligence. What’s more, you may be able to sue the bus driver.
Remember, bus drivers are common carriers, which means they have a duty to exercise extraordinary care to prevent harm to their passengers. Some courts have ruled that this includes making a reasonable effort to protect passengers from assaults by fellow passengers so long as the bus driver knew or should have known of the potential assault.
4. Bus accidents caused by defects
If a bus accident is caused by a defect, the manufacturer of the defective product can be held liable. This type of lawsuit is called a product liability lawsuit.
In Alabama, product liability lawsuits are based on either negligence or strict liability.
In a product liability case based on negligence, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- The defendant's breach caused the plaintiff's injuries.
In a product liability case based on strict liability, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The product was sold in an "unreasonably dangerous" condition,
- The unreasonably dangerous condition existed when the product left the defendant's control, and
- The dangerous condition caused the plaintiff's injuries.
Workers’ compensation and bus accidents
A bus driver who is injured on the job can typically file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured while doing their job.
Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy in Alabama, which means that you can’t file a workers’ compensation claim and file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer or colleague.
However, if a third party (someone other than your employer or colleague) caused your accident, you can sue them for any damages not covered by your workers’ compensation claim. For example, you might be able to sue the at-fault driver.
How long do I have to file a bus accident claim in Alabama?
The statute of limitations for most personal injury claims in Alabama is 2 years.
In other words, you have 2 years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit or your claim is forever barred.
There are a few exceptions to the 2-year statute of limitations, so it’s a good idea to talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible after a bus accident in order to protect your legal rights.
5 critical steps to take following a bus accident
As a passenger, you have almost no control over the circumstances that cause a bus accident. However, you do have control over the steps you take after the accident.
Here are 5 things you can do to increase your chances of recovering the damages you deserve:
- Get medical attention (whether you think you need it or not). It’s a good idea to get medical attention after a bus accident whether you think you need it or not. This is because many symptoms don’t appear for hours or even days after a serious injury. What’s more, proof that you saw a doctor shortly after your accident helps prevent insurance companies and defense attorneys from arguing that you weren’t really injured or that you failed to mitigate your damages.
- Call the police. The police will conduct an investigation and draft a police report that may help support your insurance claim or lawsuit down the road. Sometimes the police aren’t called right away after an accident involving lots of people due to something called the “bystander effect. ” Basically, everyone assumes that someone else will call the police and, as a result, nobody does. Don’t let this happen to you! Take initiative and call the police right away.
- Gather evidence. If it’s safe to do so and you can do so without further injuring yourself, gather as much evidence you can at the scene of the accident. This includes photographs of the scene and your injuries, contact and insurance information from all parties involved, as well as contact information for any witnesses.
- Avoid posting about the accident on social media. One of the first things defense attorneys do when beginning a case is look at the plaintiff’s social media accounts to find if any posts can be used against them. Avoid posting anything about the accident or your injuries, even if you think it helps your case.
- Contact a lawyer as soon as possible. Contacting a lawyer right away will help ensure you don’t miss the statute of limitations. What’s more, other passengers will almost certainly file their own claims and you don’t want to be the last one in line when the money from the defendant is running out.