If you’ve been injured in a bus wreck in the Wolverine State, it’s important to know who’s at fault and why that matters.
Do you know why Michigan is called “The Wolverine State”?
Some say it’s because of the population of wolverines that once roamed the Toledo strip (the land along the border of Ohio and Michigan). And though wolverines would wander the state lands long ago, humans have found much more efficient means of transportation since then... like buses.
The Michigan Department of Transportation estimated that 78 public transit agencies transported 80 million passengers in 2019. The state has 5 intercity bus routes that carried 30,108 passengers in 2020, and there are 165 private bus regular routes and charter carriers licensed in the state.
Michigan bus transit services include:
- Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA)
- Blue Water Transit
- Detroit Department of Transportation
- Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA)
- Transit Windsor
- University of Michigan Transportation
- Lake Erie Transit
There are also more than 60 local transit agencies.
Michigan bus accidents in the news
School bus crash with a car (January 25, 2021)
Fortunately, no children were on board when a car collided with a Jackson Public Schools bus in Blackman Township. A 51-year-old Jackson man was driving a sedan on W. North Street when he failed to yield to the school bus, which was traveling south on N. Brown Street. The bus hit the passenger side of the car, which rolled over.
The car driver suffered minor injuries and the school bus driver was uninjured. (source)
Bus collision with a downtown building (December 27, 2020)
An SUV and Flint Metro Transportation Authority bus collided at the intersection of Saginaw and 3rd Streets at about 2 p.m., resulting in the bus crashing into the side of the downtown Flint Paterson Building. Witnesses said that the SUV had been speeding and ran a red light before it struck the bus. Injuries were reported following the accident. (source)
Multi-vehicle crash (October 23, 2020)
A 23-year-old driver caused a crash that resulted in injuries to a DDOT bus driver at the intersection of Dequindre Street and East Outer Drive in Detroit. The car was speeding and broadsided the bus, which caused the bus to hit several poles and eventually crash into a retail store. The driver was ejected from the bus and hospitalized. The driver of the car was also hospitalized for his injuries. (source)
From these examples and the chart below, you can see that although bus accidents happen, fatalities are rare.
Common causes of bus accidents
Most bus accidents are caused by the same factors that cause other types of collisions between passenger cars and trucks.
These factors include:
- Driver distraction or fatigue
- Location difficulties (little room to maneuver, especially in heavily populated or urban areas)
- Bad road conditions and poor weather
- Vehicle equipment defects
- Weight distribution problems (tipping hazard)
- Lack of proper driver training
There are a few factors that make a bus accident more likely to result in serious injuries. For instance, a bus has more height and lower weight distribution than a passenger car, which makes it more likely to have a rollover or tip-over accident.
In addition, bus passengers usually don’t wear seatbelts like they do in cars, which means that they are more likely to experience serious injuries in an accident.
There are also bus accidents that happen for reasons other than collisions, and these might include a slip-and-fall when boarding or leaving a bus, or crosswalk or other pedestrian accidents.
Common bus accident injuries
Any traffic accident can result in a range of injuries, from very mild to very severe or fatal.
Some serious injuries you might suffer after a bus accident include:
Damages (compensation) for bus accident injuries
If you’ve been injured in a bus accident, you can make a claim for the expenses related to the accident. These costs can 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
Liability for a Michigan bus accident
If you’re injured in a bus accident, the first question is... who pays?
The question of who pays depends on who’s liable for the accident and if someone was negligent. In the legal world, you often hear the words “liability” and “negligence” used interchangeably, but they are not technically the same.
Liability is responsibility. Negligence is a lack of responsibility.
If someone is liable for damage, they caused the damage because of something they did. If they’re negligent, it’s because they caused the damage by not acting properly or correctly.
In a car accident, the question of liability is often between 2 or more drivers. In Michigan, the court will determine each party’s percentage of fault in order to award damages. When an accident happens that involves more than 1 driver, the insurance companies will determine who’s at fault. In many situations, while 1 driver might have caused the accident, there are ways that the other driver might have avoided it and therefore they may be held partially responsible.
This is the “51% Rule” of modified comparative fault.
If you’re a passenger on a bus that’s involved in an accident, you likely don’t have any liability because the operation of the bus was outside of your control.
The exception would be if your behavior was unsafe and you had a role in causing your own injury. For instance, if you were standing or not sitting properly but could have been, and the bus came to a sudden stop and you were injured, you might bear some of the liability.
But if you were without fault for the accident, you need to determine who was negligent if you’re going to recover damages. And that might not be easy.
For instance, the bus accident could be the fault of another driver who collided with the bus. Or 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 driver because of human error, or the bus manufacturer because of an equipment malfunction. It could be the fault of the bus company because it failed to perform proper inspections.
Common carrier liability and bus crashes
State and federal regulations include common carrier laws. A common carrier is any 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
A charter bus or other private transportation motorcoach that’s in an accident is going to be handled differently from a public bus, which is one owned and operated by the city or state.
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.
Types of buses
- Charter buses are when a group or organization 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.
If the bus is owned by a state or local 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 the bus system. However, you’d file a claim differently against a government than you do against a private person or company.
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.
When to call a Michigan bus accident lawyer
If you’ve been in a Michigan bus accident, you should call an injury lawyer right away.
Michigan follows a no-fault system of insurance, so your own auto insurance might cover some of your medical expenses.
It’s important to consult a lawyer as soon as possible following your accident because if you need to file a lawsuit against a government agency that operates the bus system, you might need to provide notice within 6 months of the accident. The statute of limitations (filing deadline) in a lawsuit against a private party would be 2 years from the date of the injury.