A bus accident is handled differently than a collision between cars — learn how to tell who’s liable and how to file a claim
Almost everyone has traveled by bus at one time or another, whether it’s to school, work, or on a trip. Buses, in general, are a very safe form of transportation.
There are more than 130 transit systems in New York State.1 That includes railroad, the New York City subway system, and buses that operate across the state.
The two major commercial bus lines that serve New York State are Greyhound and MegaBus.2 Trailways also operates privately-owned motorcoach companies that include Adirondack Trailways, Pine Hill Trailways, and New York Trailways. There is also a variety of private charter bus companies and local bus services in every metro area throughout the state.
New York State has a Public Transportation Safety Board (PTSB) that was created in 1984 and is the first of its kind in the nation. This authority oversees all public transportation systems in the state in order to reduce the number, rate, and severity of accidents.
Data about motorcoach (bus) crashes is reported nationally by the American Bus Association Foundation (ABAF). In a recent report, the organization found 2,990 U.S. companies operating 43,885 motorcoaches.
Types of buses
Buses usually fall into certain categories. Knowing how a bus is classified is important to understanding how to file a lawsuit in the event of a bus accidents:
- 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.
|NYS bus accidents
|Total vehicles involved
|Vehicles in fatal crashes
|Vehicles in non-fatal crashes
|Number of fatal & non-fatal crashes
Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration crash statistics
Common causes of bus accidents
Why do bus accidents happen?
Bus accidents are largely caused by the same factors that cause collisions between passenger cars and trucks, namely:
- 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
A tip-over or rollover is more likely for a bus than a passenger car because of the height and distribution of weight within the vehicle. Adding to this risk is the fact that most bus passengers don’t wear seatbelts and buses don’t tend to be equipped with airbags. That means that even though bus accidents aren’t as common as car accidents, injuries are often more serious when a bus crashes.
Common bus accident injuries
Any traffic accident can result in an injury that could be very minor or very severe.
Bus accident injuries might include:
How to prove New York bus accident liability
The premise of personal injury law is to make a plaintiff whole again. While you can’t always be restored to the physical and emotional condition you were in before an accident, the law provides for a plaintiff to be restored financially to the position they’d have been in if the accident hadn’t happened.
In other words, the legal system is designed to compensate an injured person for the financial costs associated with the accident. This includes:
- 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
But at the crux of any personal injury lawsuit is a determination of who’s at fault (that is, who’s liable) for the accident.
Liability is responsibility. Negligence is lack of responsibility.
If someone is liable for damage to your car, 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.
One major factor to a successful New York bus accident claim is determining who’s liable for your injury. If you’re in a “regular” car accident with 2 vehicles involved (yours and the other driver), there’s usually 1 driver who’s either fully or partially liable. In some situations, liability is split between the 2 drivers (in other words, although 1 person might have caused the accident, there’s a possibility that the other driver might have prevented it if they’d acted differently or more quickly).
But in a bus accident, liability might not be so straightforward.
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.
These are just a few examples. There are a range of other variables that might affect bus accident liability.
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 — like an MTA bus in New York City, CDTA in the Capital Region, NFTA-Metro in Buffalo, and others.
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.
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.
Statute of limitations for bus accidents in NY
In any personal injury, there’s a statute of limitations — a deadline by which you must file a lawsuit.
In most New York cases (including bus crash injuries), the statute of limitations is 3 years from the date of the injury.
If you’re suing a government entity, you must file a notice of claim. A New York notice of claim must be filed within 90 days of the injury. This document puts the government on notice that you intend to sue. If you don’t file a notice of claim within 90 days, you lose your right to file a lawsuit.
There are specific requirements for what the notice must include, and there can be variations based on what agency you’re suing. This is best left to your personal injury lawyer so that all the requirements are met.
Bus safety tips
What can you do to prevent a bus accident or injury?
While avoiding a crash may be out of your hands as a passenger, bus accidents aren’t limited to just collisions. Often, injuries happen when a rider experiences a slip-and-fall getting on or off the bus, or suffers another injury related to boarding or exiting the bus.
Here are 10 tips to keep yourself 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.
Seat belt laws on buses
A federal rule established that after November 2016, all new motor coaches and certain classes of large buses must be equipped with seat belts. The rule doesn’t require seat belts to be retrofitted in buses manufactured before the rule went into effect.
You’re not required by law to wear a seat belt when one is available on a bus, but it’s a good idea to do so anyway.
When to call a New York bus accident lawyer
If you’ve been in a New York bus accident, you should call an injury lawyer right away. If you have car insurance, your no-fault insurance might cover your medical treatment for some injuries. However, if your injuries are severe, you don’t have automotive insurance, or the insurance doesn’t cover the full extent of your costs, you’ll want to seek advice from an attorney.
Especially if the bus accident occurred while on public transportation (a school or city bus), your lawyer will understand the nuances of how to file a claim against the appropriate government entity. And if it’s a private charter, those companies have deep pockets and experienced legal teams, so you don’t want to go up against them on your own.