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Injured in a bus crash? Learn why bus accident claims are different from most other types of motor vehicle claims
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Missouri is one of the most dangerous places to drive a car. Car accidents are a serious danger.
Fortunately, the Show-Me State has extensive rural and urban transportation systems.
From OATS Transit, a non-profit organization that provides bus service in 87 counties, to MetroBus, a public bus service in Greater St. Louis, Missourians who want to reap the benefits of taking a bus have options.
But what if you get injured while riding a bus in Missouri?
Bus accident statistics
Traveling by bus is extremely safe. Consider the data.
According to a study by the American Public Transit Association (APTA), traveling by bus is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by car.
“A person can reduce his or her chance of being in an accident by more than 90% simply by taking public transit as opposed to commuting by car,” said Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Institute.
In Missouri, there were only 25 fatal bus accidents from 2016-2020. During that same time period, there were 4,257 fatal car crashes.
|Missouri bus accidents (2016-2020)|
|Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol Statistical Analysis Center|
Common causes of bus accidents
Bus accidents happen for many of the same reasons that car accidents happen. These include:
- Distracted driving
- Driver fatigue
- Driving while intoxicated
- Poor road conditions
- Dangerous road obstructions
- Mechanical failure
A bus is more likely than a car to roll over due to the fact that a bus's center of gravity sits higher above the road surface. Adding to the risk of a rollover is the fact that most passengers don’t wear seatbelts and buses typically aren’t equipped with airbags. What’s more, passengers may be carrying objects that could become projectiles if a bus rolls over.
Katherine Shaelford, the driver of the first school bus, took her eyes off the road to check her mirrors so that she could shift into the left lane and failed to notice the stopped traffic. The bus crashed into a pickup truck, killing the driver of the truck. The second bus, driven by Kelly McCennis-Mullenix, then struck the first bus, pushing it on top of the pickup truck.
One child was killed and 38 others were injured in the crash.
Bus accident injuries
As is the case with car accidents, bus accidents can cause all sorts of injuries. These injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Organ damage
According to a study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal, the most common non-collision injuries on public buses include injuries to the limbs, vertebral column, and head. Non-collision injuries are typically the result of a fall after the bus suddenly accelerates or decelerates while the passenger is standing.
Who’s liable for a bus accident in Missouri?
In order to recover damages following a bus accident, you need to prove that someone else was at fault (i.e., legally responsible) for your injuries.
When it comes to bus accidents, the following parties may be at fault:
- The owner of the bus
- The bus driver
- The manufacturer of a defective bus component
- A passenger on the bus
- Another driver
In any case, you’ll generally establish liability using the legal theory of negligence.
The tort of negligence has 3 elements:
- Duty. You need to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care. Most people, including drivers of passenger vehicles and manufacturers, have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others. Bus drivers, however, are “common carriers” and have a heightened duty to exercise the “highest degree of care.”
- Breach. You need to prove that the defendant breached their duty. In other words, you need to establish that the defendant failed to exercise the duty of care required under the law.
- Causation. You need to prove that you were injured as a result of the defendant’s breach. In other words, but for the defendant’s breach, you wouldn’t have been injured.
You must establish all 3 elements to prove negligence and recover damages.
Privately-owned buses vs. publicly-owned buses
Filing a lawsuit after a bus accident can be more complicated than filing a lawsuit after most other types of motor vehicle accidents.
When a bus accident is caused by a bus driver, the injured party will typically sue the owner of the bus under the doctrine of respondeat superior. Most buses are owned by government entities (such as a city or town), which means the injured party may need to sue the government.
Generally, under Missouri sovereign immunity laws, government agencies are immune from lawsuits for the negligent acts of their employees. However, Missouri law has established an exception for motor vehicle accidents.
Specifically, under Missouri Revised Statute 537.600, when someone is injured by a public employee who was operating a motor vehicle as part of their job, the injured person can sue the public employee and the county, city, or state that employs them.
There are, however, certain hoops a plaintiff will need to jump through when suing the government. Most notably, plaintiffs will need to provide written notice of a claim within 180 days of the injury (or less in some situations).
Statute of limitations for bus accident lawsuits
The term “statute of limitations” refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit before the suit is forever barred.
Pursuant to Section 516.120 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, personal injury claimants in Missouri usually have 5 years from the date of injury to file a formal lawsuit. However, claimants suing the government must provide notice to the government entity within 180 days of the injury.
What damages can I recover after a bus accident in Missouri?
Missouri allows bus accident victims to recover 3 types of damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident (pain and suffering, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and are typically only available if the defendant acted willfully.
Bus accidents and workers’ compensation
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 Missouri, which means that a bus driver can’t file a workers’ compensation claim and file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer.
However, if a third party (such as another driver) caused the bus driver’s injury, the bus driver can sue them for any damages not covered by their workers’ compensation claim.
Finding a bus accident attorney near you
Bus accident claims are more complicated than most other types of motor vehicle accident claims for a number of reasons. For example:
- Injuries. Bus accidents typically involve injuries to more than 1 person.
- Evidence. When a bus is involved in an accident, there’s typically a lot of evidence to gather and review. Bus accident evidence usually includes driver logs, maintenance logs, and electronic onboard recording devices.
- Vehicles. Bus accidents often involve more than 1 vehicle.
- Government. Buses are often owned by government entities. Plaintiffs must follow strict procedures when suing the government.
- Insurance. Private bus companies often have complex insurance and corporate structures.
For the reasons listed above, it’s particularly important to choose an attorney who has experience litigating bus accident claims.
You can find an experienced Missouri bus accident attorney using our free online directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.