Learn what to do in the aftermath of a bus accident in Chicago or elsewhere in Illinois
Across the state of Illinois, 63 public transit operators help an estimated 400 million bus riders get where they’re going every year.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), which transports 1.6 million riders on an average weekday, operates the nation’s second-largest public transportation system. Throughout Illinois, 96 out of the state’s 102 counties offer some type of public transit service. This doesn’t even count the thousands of school buses and private chartered bus companies that offer service in the Prairie State.
With so many buses on the road in Illinois, accidents are inevitable.
Types of bus accidents
The term “bus accident” includes several different modes of transportation. For example:
- Public transportation buses (CTA, Pace)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Megabus, and Greyhound)
- School buses
- Airport and hotel shuttle buses
- Private charter buses
- Tour buses
Causes of bus accidents
Bus accidents are caused by many of the same conditions and actions that cause car accidents. Some of the most common causes of bus accidents are:
- Distracted driving
- Failure to obey traffic signs and signals
- Driver fatigue
- Driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs or alcohol
- Improper maneuvering
- Inadequate training
- Improper maintenance
- Poor road conditions or dangerous obstructions
- Mechanical failure
One fall morning in 1995, a substitute bus driver drove a school bus toward Cary-Grove High School in Cary, Illinois. The song “Runaway” by Janet Jackson played over the radio as the school bus crossed the railroad tracks and stopped at a red light on Algonquin Road. All of a sudden, the children in the back of the bus started running up to the front. A moment later a Metra express train, traveling 70 mph, slammed into the back of the school bus.
Seven high school students were killed in the crash and 24 others were injured.
How did this happen?
A host of factors contributed to the accident. The bus driver was unfamiliar with the route, including the fact that the intersection didn’t allow enough space for the bus to clear the tracks. The driver was also running late. Had the bus been on schedule, the driver wouldn’t have had to contend with the train at the intersection.
What’s more, investigators found that various agencies failed to communicate with each other about prior complaints involving the timing of the traffic lights and train warnings at the crossing. Community High School District 155 and Crystal Lake School District 47, which shared supervision over the bus system, also failed to adequately prepare bus drivers with information about hazards along the routes.
Ultimately, the school districts and various governmental agencies settled a lawsuit brought by the families of the deceased high school students for $27 million.
Bus accident liability in Illinois
In most cases, bus accidents are caused by other drivers or the operator of the bus.
Bus accidents caused by other drivers
If a bus accident is caused by another driver, an injured passenger will have to prove that the other driver was negligent.
To prove negligence in Illinois, the injured passenger must prove that:
- The other driver owed the passenger a duty. All drivers owe all others on the road a duty to drive with a reasonable degree of care.
- The other driver breached their duty. To prove this, the passenger will have to show that the driver failed to drive with a reasonable degree of care. For example, was the driver distracted, speeding, or driving under the influence of alcohol?
- The passenger was injured as a result of the driver’s breach. The passenger must show that the driver’s actions (such as texting, speeding, or driving under the influence) caused the accident. In other words, if it wasn’t for the driver’s actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred and the passenger wouldn’t have been injured.
As is the case with a car accident, an injured bus passenger can file a claim with the driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver.
Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
If the bus accident is caused by the bus driver, the injured passenger has to prove that the bus driver was negligent. However, negligence is easier to prove when it comes to accidents caused by bus drivers because bus drivers are considered “common carriers” in Illinois. This means that bus drivers owe their passengers the duty to use the highest degree of care (as opposed to a reasonable degree of care).
To prove that a bus driver was negligent in Illinois, an injured passenger must show that:
- The bus driver owed the passenger a duty. All bus drivers owe their passengers a duty to drive with the highest degree of care.
- The bus driver breached their duty. To prove this, the passenger will have to show that the bus driver failed to drive with the highest degree of care.
- The passenger was injured as a result of the driver’s breach. The passenger must show that the bus driver’s actions caused the accident. In other words, if it wasn’t for the bus driver’s actions, the accident wouldn’t have occurred and the passenger wouldn’t have been injured.
Common carrier doctrine
In addition, the common carrier doctrine means that the owner or operator of the bus is responsible for the following:
- Injuries caused by the intentional acts of the bus company’s employees, regardless of whether the act was within the actual or apparent scope of the employee’s authority. For example, if the bus driver assaults a passenger, the passenger can sue the owner of the bus and the owner would be held liable even though the bus driver’s actions clearly weren’t within the scope of their employment.
- Injuries from assault or abuse by other passengers or third parties. If the bus driver knows or should anticipate the danger of assault or abuse to a passenger, they have a duty to exercise the highest degree of care to protect the passenger. For example, if a passenger tells the bus driver that someone on the bus threatened them, the bus driver has a duty to protect the passenger (by, for example, removing the threatening party from the bus).
How to file a bus injury claim in Illinois
There’s something else you need to keep in mind if your accident was caused by the bus driver. Buses are either privately-owned or government-owned:
- Private buses include private bus lines like Coach, Megabus, and Greyhound, as well as most hotel and airport shuttle buses.
- Government-owned buses include public transportation like CTA and Pace. Most school buses are also owned by the government (usually the town, county, or school district where the bus operates).
If the bus is privately owned, you can sue the driver and the company that owns the bus, just as you would if you were involved in a car accident. To this end, your lawsuit must be filed within 2 years of the date of the accident.
However, if the bus was government-owned, things get a little more complicated. A person seeking to file a claim against the government must take 1 of 2 steps:
- File a notice of the claim with the Attorney General and the Clerk of the Court of Claims within 1 year of the date of injury. This written notice must list the name and home address of the injured person, the date and time of the accident, the place where it occurred, a brief description of the accident, and the name and address of the claimant's attending physician. So long as this notice is filed within 1 year, you have 2 years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit.
- File a lawsuit with the Court of Claims within 1 year of the date the accident occurred. If the claim is filed within 1 year, notice isn’t necessary.
Common bus accident injuries
Due to the large size of buses and the low speed at which they generally travel, fatalities are rare. In 2017, there were only 8 fatalities caused by bus accidents. On the other hand, the fact that buses are generally not equipped with seatbelts means that non-fatal injuries are common.
Bus accident injuries may include:
Damages awarded in Illinois bus accident claims
Illinois awards both economic and non-economic damages to injured passengers. “Economic damages” refer to monetary losses resulting from an accident. “Non-economic damages” refer to losses that don’t have a clear dollar value.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s included in these 2 types of damages:
|Types of damages in Illinois|
|Economic damages||Non-economic damages|
|Property damage||Pain and suffering|
|Medical expenses||Emotional distress|
|Estimated future medical expenses||Loss of consortium|
|Lost income||Loss of enjoyment of life|
|Other out of pocket costs (e.g., travel costs)||Other non-monetary losses (e.g., loss of reputation)|
What to do after a bus accident
The steps you take after a bus accident can mean the difference between recovering all the damages you’re owed and not recovering any damages. Here’s what you need to do:
- Step 1: Seek medical attention. Your health should be your top priority. Even if you don’t think you’ve been injured, it’s a good idea to see a doctor immediately after an accident. The symptoms of some injuries, including serious internal injuries, may not appear for hours or even days after an accident. What’s more, going to the hospital reduces the chances that the insurance company or defendant will successfully argue that you weren’t really injured.
- Step 2: Call the police. Most bus drivers in Illinois are required to call the police after an accident. Even so, you should call the police yourself to make sure they’re notified. The police report can be a useful piece of evidence down the road.
- Step 3: Collect driver information. If the police arrive on the scene, they can help you collect this information. Otherwise, you’ll need to get the information yourself. Be sure to write down or take a picture of the pertinent information for all the drivers involved. This includes the driver’s name, contact information, insurance information, and license plate number.
- Step 4: Collect witness information. The good thing about bus accidents is that there are generally lots of witnesses. The best time to collect their contact information is immediately after the crash. Though police will often collect this information, they may miss witnesses or fail to add their contact information to the police report.
- Step 5: Preserve evidence. Take pictures of the scene and any damages (including physical injuries).
- Step 6: Contact a personal injury attorney. Remember, the statute of limitations depends on whether the bus is government-owned or privately-owned. To avoid missing this deadline, it’s important to contact an attorney as soon as possible. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you gather evidence, negotiate a fair settlement, and represent you through trial if necessary.