Learn what to do in the aftermath of a bus accident, whether you’re a passenger or a bus driver
In total, buses travel about 45,000 miles every day in the United States. Though bus accidents are rare compared to car accidents, they do happen. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there are roughly 66,000 bus accidents every year.
It may seem like an injury claim based on a bus accident should be the same as an injury claim based on a car accident, but bus accident injury claims are generally more complex. Bus accidents involve large companies or government entities.
What’s more, bus drivers are held to a different legal standard than regular drivers.
If you’ve been injured in a bus accident in Indiana, whether you were a passenger or a bus driver, there are a few things you should know.
Common types and causes of bus accidents
The term “bus” refers to large private and public vehicles that transport passengers for a fee. In Indiana, this includes:
- Public transportation buses (IndyGo, DART, TRANSPO)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Greyhound)
- School buses
- Airport and hotel shuttle buses
- Tour buses
- Private charter buses
Bus accidents happen for a lot of the same reasons car accidents happen. For example:
- Distracted driving
- Driving while intoxicated
- Poor road conditions or dangerous obstructions
- Mechanical failure
Additionally, there are some other factors that contribute to bus accidents more than car accidents. These include:
- Driver fatigue
- Inadequate training
- Improper maintenance
- Distractions caused by passengers
- Driver confusion with respect to bus operations (for example, crashing into the back of a bus when it stops at a bus stop)
Three children left their trailer in the Meiser Mobile Home Park and headed toward the bus.
As the children started to cross the 2-lane highway, the bus driver noticed that a pickup truck was approaching from behind and didn’t appear to be slowing down. The bus driver honked his horn and motioned for the children to return to the side of the road, but it was too late.
The pickup truck struck and killed all 3 children.
The driver was convicted of reckless homicide. What’s more, a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation found that a contributing cause of the crash was the Tippecanoe Valley School’s inadequate safety assessment of school bus routes, resulting in a prevalence of bus stops that require students to cross high-speed roads.
A civil lawsuit is pending against the driver and the school board.
Bus accident liability in Indiana
Determining who’s liable for a bus accident and how liability is established depends on the nature of the accident. Most bus accidents fall into one of the following categories:
- Bus accidents caused by other drivers
- Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
- Bus accidents caused by passengers
- Bus accidents caused by defects
Let’s take a look at each:
Bus accidents caused by other drivers
A majority of bus accidents are caused by other drivers on the road. Perhaps a driver runs a red light and T-bones the bus, or perhaps a driver is following too closely and slams into the back of the bus when it stops to pick up a passenger.
To establish liability in these cases, an injured bus passenger needs to prove that the other driver was negligent. To do this, the injured passenger needs to show these 3 things:
- The driver owed the passenger a duty. All drivers owe all others on the road a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care.
- The driver breached their duty. In other words, the driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care (for example, the driver was texting while driving or following the bus too closely).
- The passenger was injured as a result of the driver’s breach. It’s not enough to prove that the driver was careless, the injured passenger must establish that the careless act was the legal cause of the accident.
As with traditional car accidents, an injured bus passenger can file an insurance claim with the driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver.
Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
In Indiana, bus drivers are considered “common carriers.”
What does this mean for your injury claim?
Common carriers are held to a higher standard of care. Whereas most drivers have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others, bus drivers must exercise “extraordinary care.”
To establish liability against a bus driver, an injured passenger still has to prove the elements of negligence. However, the heightened duty makes this task a little easier.
Here’s what an injured bus passenger needs to prove:
- The bus driver owed the passenger a duty. All bus drivers owe passengers a duty to exercise extraordinary care.
- The bus driver breached their duty. In other words, the bus driver failed to exercise extraordinary care (for example, the bus driver, although driving under the speed limit, was driving too fast for the rainy conditions).
- The passenger was injured as a result of the bus driver’s breach. The passenger must establish that the bus driver’s breach was the legal cause of the accident.
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 liable for the actions of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Bus accidents caused by passengers
If you’ve ever been a passenger on a bus, you know that dangers don’t just come from the road. What happens if a passenger assaults you? Does the bus driver have any liability or are you stuck suing the perpetrator who doesn’t have insurance and may not have any money at all?
Because bus drivers are common carriers, they have a duty to exercise extraordinary care to prevent harm to their passengers. Indiana 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.
Bus accidents caused by defects
If a bus accident is caused by a defect (for example, a defective tire), the manufacturer of the defect can be held liable.
Bus accident injuries and damages
Statistically, buses are much safer than other types of vehicles.
Nevertheless, occupants can be seriously injured in a bus accident. After all, Indiana law does NOT require seat belts on buses (except for school buses that transport preschoolers).
Common bus injuries include:
Indiana awards both economic and non-economic damages. “Economic damages” are monetary losses that stem from the accident. “Non-economic damages” are non-monetary losses that stem from the accident.
Here’s a breakdown:
|Types of damages in Indiana
What if the bus driver is injured in an Indiana bus accident?
A bus driver who is injured on the job can 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 Indiana, 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.
How to file a bus injury claim in Indiana
Buses are either privately owned or owned by the government:
- Private buses include bus lines like Coach and Greyhound, as well as most hotel and airport shuttle buses.
- Government-owned buses include public transportation like IndyGo and Dart, as well as most school buses.
The distinction is important because Indiana’s Tort Claims Act requires that any person who wishes to sue the government must provide a tort claim notice to the appropriate government agency within 180 days of the accident.
In contrast, a plaintiff generally has 2 years to file a claim against a private bus company.
Most personal injury lawsuits will be filed in the circuit or superior court located in the county where the accident occurred.