How to claim compensation if you were injured in a Bay State bus accident
Does your morning commute involve a bus ride? Or do you take an occasional Greyhound to visit friends or family members in another state? Or perhaps you don’t ride buses often, but your children board one each day to get to school.
Regardless of whether or not you ride a bus frequently, you certainly share the road with buses, whether city buses or school buses. That’s why it’s important to know what the liabilities and responsibilities are for passengers, bus operators, and other motorists when there’s a bus accident.
There were 43 bus occupant fatalities in 2018 nationwide. There were also 43 fatalities in 2017, and 64 in 2016.
Bus passenger fatalities are statistically rare, but you might have heard about this Boston bus crash:
Still, research shows that bus travel is very safe.
You can see in the tables above that while there are injuries related to bus crashes, there are very few fatalities.
Congress passed the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act in 2011 to make it even safer. The Act was a response to a fatal bus crash in Atlanta in 2007 that killed 5 members of an Ohio university baseball team. The Act mandates safety features like seat belts and harnesses, reinforced windows, crush-resistant bus roofs, enhanced driver training, and flame-resistant bus interiors.
Types of bus transportation
Generally, there are 4 types of bus transportation:
- School buses
- Transit buses (city buses, shuttles, and commuter buses)
- Intercity buses (buses designed for long-distance travel)
- Passenger vans (vehicles that hold 15 or fewer passengers, often used for private organizations like churches, assistance for seniors or disabled individuals, daycare, and other entities)
In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) serves the Boston metropolitan area and outlying regions. Regional transit authorities serve areas across the Commonwealth, all the way from Boston to the Berkshires and the Islands.
Many of these regional transportation authorities have bus services that provide commuter and sightseeing buses for local routes.
There are also private bus transportation services like Greyhound, Peter Pan Bus Lines, and others, like charter bus companies for longer distances or inter-city travel. A charter bus is rented by a team, organization, or group of people who are traveling together between 2 or more destinations.
School buses are different from other types of buses for a few reasons:
- They’re designed to be safer than other buses or cars. There’s a reason why school buses are yellow. They are highly visible and, unlike other kinds of buses, they have flashing red lights and stop-sign arms. School buses are also equipped with protective seats designed to cushion children in a crash, high crush standards, and rollover protection features.
- There are laws that apply specifically to school buses. Drivers are not permitted to pass a school bus in either direction when it’s stopped to board or drop off passengers.
Seat belts are not required on Massachusetts school buses, but school districts can have their own policies.
A school bus distributes crash force differently from cars or trucks. The seats on a school bus provide “compartmentalization,” which protects passengers in the absence of seat belts. The bus seats are strong, closely spaced, and include energy-absorbing seat backs.
In addition to school buses being constructed in a way that provides additional safety features for children, there are concerns that if there were an accident, very young children would be unable to unfasten themselves from seatbelts and it would become more difficult for them to be “rescued” from a bus in peril.
Common causes of bus accidents
A bus accident can happen in a variety of ways, but here are some of the most common causes:
- Driver error. All drivers make mistakes, even when they’re trying to do the right things. One problem with buses is that because they’re so large, it can be difficult for a driver to see other vehicles on the road. Buses have more blind spots than passenger cars, and it can be difficult to maneuver and merge into traffic.
- Driver fatigue. Bus drivers have rigorous schedules and it’s a tough job. Exhaustion is common. When a driver starts to become tired, their reaction times are slower and they become less alert, which can be a major factor in causing an accident.
- Driving while intoxicated. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is illegal for all drivers, and it’s especially problematic for a bus driver who’s transporting passengers. Bus drivers who are operating vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can be criminally charged and held liable for civil damages.If you’re convicted of a first DUI in Massachusetts, you’re disqualified from obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) for 1 year. A commercial driver (including bus drivers) is required to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04% or less while driving. If you’re driving a bus with a BAC higher than .04%, you can lose your CDL license for 1 year. A second DUI conviction would result in a lifetime disqualification from holding a CDL.
- Bus maintenance. State and federal laws require bus companies to perform certain routine maintenance checks to ensure that buses are safe and functioning properly, but some companies fail to perform the required checks.
- Mechanical problems. Brakes, tires, suspension, steering, and lights are all components that could break down during the operation of a bus—even with regular maintenance. If a defective part causes an accident, the manufacturer may be held liable under Massachusetts product liability laws.
- Road design. Buses maneuver differently from cars because of their massive size, shape, and height. Sharp curves, short merging lanes and areas of poor visibility can result in bus accidents.
- Weather conditions. Snow, heavy rain, wind, and other common New England weather conditions can leave roads slippery and impact the driver’s visibility or maneuverability.
- Road conditions. Weather isn’t the only condition that causes accidents. Potholes, poor lighting, construction zones, unmarked curves and other road maintenance issues can cause bus accidents.
Bus accident liability
There could be several parties who are liable for a bus accident in Massachusetts. When you’re in a car accident, in most cases it’s either your fault, the other driver’s fault, or maybe a combination of both. This is important because of how Massachusetts handles liability for a personal injury.
The Commonwealth follows a modified comparative negligence standard of law. If you have to file a lawsuit (for any personal injury in Massachusetts), you can recover for your injuries only if you’re less than 51% at fault. If your allocation of fault is 51% or higher, then you can’t recover any damages.
If you’re 50% or less at fault, the amount of your damages would be reduced by your percentage of fault.
In a bus accident, the driver is probably either an employee of a bus company, a contractor, or a government employee (if it’s a public bus). But the crash could also have been caused by another driver, road conditions, or a problem with bus maintenance.
These are some of the possible liable parties in a bus accident:
- The bus company. The bus company is responsible for maintaining vehicles, driver training and screening, and company operations. If a failure of any of these functions caused the accident, the bus company would be liable.
- The bus driver. Sometimes, the bus company can be held liable for a driver’s negligence because an employer can be responsible for its employees. But not always. The circumstances of the crash and the driver’s behavior will determine whether the bus driver would be added as a defendant.
- Other drivers or road users. If the collision was the fault of another driver, that person would be liable for your damages. You would need to pursue a claim against that driver, just as you would for any other car accident.
- Manufacturer of the bus or its parts. When you purchase a car, usually it’s made in a factory by a single manufacturer that builds it from components also made by the same company. For example, if you have Honda, it’s built with Honda parts. But trucks and some buses are different. A bus might have components made by several different companies. So if the accident happened because of brake failure, steering failure, or some other mechanical issue, the bus manufacturer and the manufacturer of the failed system could both be liable.
- Maintenance provider. Sometimes a bus company hires other companies to provide routine maintenance on the bus fleet. If a maintenance provider failed to correctly maintain a bus in a way that resulted in a crash, the provider could be liable.
- City, state, or municipality. Some bus accidents are because of poor road conditions, signage, lighting, or other conditions that are controlled by a government entity. If the bus, itself, is owned by a government agency, that creates even more liability.
Common carrier liability
A bus company is a common carrier. 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
The common carrier is held to a higher standard than other types of businesses because of the nature of the industry. Transportation can involve risk, and these companies have a duty to keep passengers safe.
Financial damages for a Massachusetts bus accident injury
A personal injury lawsuit is supposed to make a plaintiff (the injured person) “whole” after an injury. No court system can heal your physical wounds, of course, but it’s meant to provide recovery so you’re in the same financial position as you’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
So, what does that mean?
If you were a passenger on a bus that was involved in a minor fender-bender and you got a small bruise that didn’t require medical treatment, you probably don’t have a claim. You can only file a lawsuit or make a claim if your injury cost you money.
If you were seriously injured, you can receive compensation for costs that include:
- 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 family member in a bus accident)
10 tips for staying 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.
Workers’ compensation for bus drivers and other bus company employees
If you’re a bus driver who was injured — either in an accident or some other work-related injury, like a back injury from loading luggage into a cargo compartment or a repetitive motion injury from hours of driving, you can claim workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system that provides compensation to cover medical treatment and a portion of your lost wages if you suffered an injury while at work.
When to contact a Massachusetts personal injury lawyer
If you were injured in a Massachusetts bus accident, you can contact a personal injury lawyer for help. Your lawyer can help you navigate the legal system and recover the compensation you need to cover your accident-related costs.