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In Washington, D.C., a bus is often the way to go so you don’t have to deal with the traffic
In a city like Washington, D.C., traffic can be a nightmare. Prior to the pandemic, D.C. was ranked as the 3rd worst city in the nation for traffic congestion. A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that D.C. drivers spent an average of 102 hours per year in traffic delays. (source)
Fortunately, Washington, D.C. has a robust city bus system that serves people who are there for work, tourism, or any other reason.
The 2 primary bus systems in Washington, D.C. are the Metrobus, which mainly serves commuters and runs hundreds of routes in the city and surrounding areas, and the D.C. Circulator. The Circulator is a $1 ride along 6 specific routes that are designed for easy access to points of interest. It runs every 10 minutes and stops in the Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Woodley Park, U Street, and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, along with the National Mall.
|Metrobus fast facts|
|1,595...||Buses in fleet|
|1,500...||Square miles covered in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia|
|390,000...||The average number of trips per weekday in 2017|
|123.6 million...||Approximate trips made in 2016|
|Source: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority|
Washington, D.C. bus accidents
Bus accidents are unusual, which is part of what makes them newsworthy. Here are a few examples of Washington, D.C. bus accidents:
- On July 14, 2021, 13 people were injured when a Metro shuttle bus crashed into a retaining wall on the 100 block of Riggs Road NE, near the Fort Totten Metro station. Of those injured, 2 were in critical condition, 3 had serious but non-life-threatening injuries, and 7 had less severe injuries. One person refused treatment. (source)
- On January 22, 2021, a car and Metro bus collided near Minnesota Avenue NE and Benning Road NE, resulting in the death of the car driver. Seven bus occupants were injured. (source)
- On March 15, 2013, 1 adult and 7 students were hospitalized after a 4-vehicle crash involving 2 school buses in Northwest D.C. A driver was arrested for DUI. The students were admitted to the hospital for observation but were not seriously injured. (source)
These bus accidents didn’t result in a high number of fatalities — or even injuries — but there’s always potential that a disaster could happen.
Types of buses
If you’re ever involved in a bus accident, it will be important to know what type of bus you’re on.
- Charter buses are for a group or organization that hires a motorcoach for exclusive use under a fixed contract.
- Package/retail tour buses are planned trips sold by a transportation or tour company.
- Sightseeing buses are offered by a motorcoach or tour company to view attractions within a specific region or area.
- Airport shuttles are private services that transport passengers on a fixed route between airports and hotels or other destinations.
- Commuter fixed-route services are used by individuals traveling between business districts and outlying residential areas.
- Scheduled buses operate on a specific ticketed schedule for planned routes between cities or areas.
- Special operations are regular-route services for special events like sporting events, concerts, or other kinds of trips.
- School buses are used to transport children from home to school and back.
Common causes of bus accidents
Bus accidents are often caused by the same conditions that cause car accidents. For instance, driver distraction or fatigue can cause any kind of accident, including a bush crash. Weather conditions, road conditions and signals, vehicle equipment defects, and a lack of driver training or experience can also play a role in causing an accident.
One difference between a bus and a passenger car is that a bus is at higher risk of a rollover or tipping accident because of its size and center of gravity. There are also some accidents where a bus is too tall to clear a low bridge or tunnel.
A tip-over or rollover is more likely for a bus than a passenger car because of the height and distribution of weight within the vehicle. Adding to the risk of injuries is the fact that most bus passengers don’t wear seatbelts and buses don’t tend to be equipped with airbags. So even though bus accidents aren’t as common as car accidents, injuries are often more serious when a bus crashes.
Liability for a Washington, D.C. bus accident
Liability is not the same as negligence. If a person or company is “liable,” it means they are responsible for something happening or that has happened. But if they’re negligent, it means they were irresponsible in a way that resulted in an injury.
Usually, a car accident involves 2 drivers. One driver caused the accident and the other is the victim — although both could be at fault to different degrees. If you were injured in an accident with another car, you would either rely on your own no-fault insurance coverage or you could file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.
A bus accident, however, could be a little more complicated in several ways:
- The bus accident could be the fault of another driver who collided with the bus.
- It could be the fault of a pedestrian who dashed in front of the bus and caused the driver to slam on the brakes or swerve.
- It could be the fault of the bus driver because of human error.
- It could be caused by the bus manufacturer because of an equipment malfunction.
- It could be the fault of the bus company because it failed to perform proper inspections.
- It could be the government’s fault if the road was poorly constructed or maintained.
There are myriad other ways an accident could happen, and knowing who is at fault is going to be the key to recovering financial damages.
Bus accidents without collisions
It’s important to remember that not every bus accident involves a passenger on a bus.
Statistics on bus accidents also include people who are boarding or disembarking buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others who are injured by a bus, but who aren’t necessarily bus riders.
These types of accidents are often slip and fall injuries or other types of injuries that could happen to someone who is hit by a vehicle.
You could suffer a slip and fall or similar injury on a bus, even if the bus is not involved in an accident. For example, if you’re standing in the aisle and the bus begins to move (or comes to a quick stop or swerves), you could be injured even if there’s not a collision. Passengers also could be injured by tripping over objects placed in the aisle by others, bumping heads on windows or bars, falling on slippery or wet stairs to the bus, or suffer other types of injuries.
Common carrier liability and bus crashes
State and federal regulations include common carrier laws. A common carrier is an individual or business licensed to transport passengers for a fee.
Every common carrier has a duty to follow certain rules to ensure the safety of its passengers. These duties include:
- Safe, well-lit, unobstructed entries and exits
- Security where necessary
- Completing thorough background checks of drivers to ensure qualifications
- Adequate training for drivers
- Proper maintenance
If a common carrier bus company doesn’t do what’s required in order to ensure a safe ride for passengers, the bus company is negligent.
Private bus companies vs. publicly-owned buses
The legal challenges that arise when a charter bus or another private transportation motorcoach is in an accident are different from crashes involving a public bus.
In many situations, an employer is liable for the negligence of an employee on the job. This applies to bus accidents, too. Even if the driver made a mistake, the bus company could be the liable party.
If the bus is owned by the District government, sovereign immunity might apply. The doctrine of sovereign immunity prohibits citizens from suing the government in some cases. That doesn’t mean you can’t get the compensation you deserve, though. Some courts interpret sovereign immunity as inapplicable to school districts, cities, municipalities, and counties — which are likely the operators of a bus system. However, you’d file a claim differently against a government than you do against a private person or company.
If you need to file a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, you must file a Notice of Claim letter within 6 months of the date of the accident. Your letter must be received by the Office of Risk Management and must contain the following:
- The identity of the claimant (injured person)
- The date and approximate time of the incident
- The location of the incident
- The cause of the damage or injury
- The circumstances under which the damage or injury was sustained (explain, in detail, why the District of Columbia should be liable for your damage or injury).
- Any police or other reports related to the incident
- Documents showing ownership at the time of the damage and original cost of damaged items
- Estimates for repairs
- Medical bills and/or medical reports
Washington, D.C. bus accident laws
D.C. is a no-fault system, which means the insurance company pays for its own insured’s minor injuries, regardless of who was at fault.
This can include expenses for medical treatment, lost wages, and other costs related to the accident.
What is Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance?
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance covers your medical treatment after an accident injury. Insurance companies are required to offer no-fault PIP insurance to all D.C. drivers, in addition to your required liability coverage. However, you’re not required to purchase it.
PIP insurance would benefit you if you’re injured in a bus accident as the driver or occupant of your own vehicle.
In Washington, D.C., PIP covers:
- Medical and rehabilitation expenses up to $50,000 per person
- The insurer must offer a $100,000 coverage option
- It includes the person named in the policy, their vehicle occupants, and the occupants of any vehicle they are driving at the time of the accident
The major benefit to PIP is that if you’re injured in an accident, your medical bills can be paid right away, rather than waiting for the insurance company to determine who was at fault.
However, PIP does not cover lost wages or pain and suffering. It’s solely for medical expenses.
Contributory negligence fault system in Washington, D.C.
Each state (and the District) follows 1 of 4 fault systems. These laws determine how much a plaintiff can recover in an accident where the plaintiff shares some responsibility for the injury.
The District of Columbia follows a pure contributory negligence standard, which means if the plaintiff shares any degree of fault, they can’t recover damages for an accident.
Even if you share some liability, you can make a claim for PIP (no-fault) medical benefits from your insurance company. Because it’s no-fault insurance, your claim should not be denied because of contributory negligence. However, you would not be able to recover damages in a lawsuit because of this negligence standard.
If you’re injured as a bus passenger, it’s unlikely that you would be held liable for your own injuries — though it’s possible if you were behaving in a way that was unsafe on the bus or you were not following the rules of the bus company.
For instance, if you are on an uncrowded bus and choosing to stand rather than sit, you could have some degree of negligence if the court finds that you would have been uninjured (or less injured) had you been sitting at the time of the accident. In other words, even though you didn’t cause the accident, a court could find that you could have prevented yourself from being injured.
Statute of limitations for bus injury cases
If you need to file a lawsuit for a bus accident in D.C., you have 3 years from the date of the accident in which to do so. You’re also required to provide written notice to the defendant’s insurance company when a claim is filed.
Bus safety tips
Here are 10 tips to keep yourself safe before, during, and after your bus ride:
- Arrive at the bus stop early or on time so that you’re not running to catch the bus.
- Wait until the bus is fully stopped and the driver opens the door before attempting to board.
- If there are other riders waiting, approach the bus patiently and in an orderly line.
- If you must cross the street, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 10 feet in front of the bus so the driver can see you. Wait until the driver motions you to cross.
- Use the handrails when boarding or exiting the bus.
- Make sure if you’re wearing loose clothes, bags with drawstrings, backpacks, or other gear, that you’re keeping it close to your body to avoid getting stuck in the bus doors.
- Never walk behind a bus.
- As soon as you exit the bus, walk a safe distance of 10 feet from the bus until it pulls away.
- If you drop something while on a moving bus, don’t attempt to retrieve it. Let the driver know that there’s a loose object on the floor and retrieve it when the bus is stopped.
- If the bus has a seat belt, use it. Encourage your children to wear their seat belts on school buses when available.
Bus accident compensation and next steps
If you were injured in a Washington, D.C. bus accident, you might be able to recover damages (costs) related to the injury, including:
- Medical treatment and ongoing therapies
- Lost wages, past and future (including loss of earning capacity)
- Compensation for emotional distress, including pain and suffering and loss of consortium
- Additional expenses related to daily life
- Property loss
- Wrongful death (if you lost a loved one in the accident)
In order to recover these expenses, you might wish to consult a Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyer. Bus companies and government agencies have deep pockets to defend against personal injury claims, but that doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to recover damages. It means you need your lawyer to help you navigate the legal system and receive what you deserve in compensation.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.