On January 7, 2020, a tractor-trailer hit a stopped school bus on Route 74/76 in Columbus County, North Carolina. The truck driver had dropped a cigarette and bent down to retrieve it while driving, so he didn’t see the stopped bus in time. A FedEx truck traveling behind the 18-wheeler also hit the school bus. The bus rolled 3 times before coming to a standstill in a ditch alongside the road.
There were 8 children and 2 adults on the bus at the time of the accident, and 2 of those children were taken to a Wilmington trauma center with serious injuries.
Accidents like this aren’t common, but they do happen. And when they do, it can be especially catastrophic and traumatic for the people involved.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash statistics show that North Carolina had 0 bus occupant fatalities in 2014, 2015, 2017, or 2018. There were 4 in 2016.
Still, you can be injured either as a bus occupant or while driving your own car in a collision with a bus. The North Carolina Department of Transportation released the following data on bus crashes as compared to other vehicle crashes:
|Crash type (in 2018)||All crashes||Fatal crashes||Injury crashes|
|Totals (all vehicles)||510,970||2,388||153,394|
Based on this information, bus crashes make up only a very small portion of the total crashes in North Carolina.
But it’s important to remember that every statistic represents a person who was involved in a crash. That’s why, even though buses are relatively safe, you still need to know what to do if you’re injured in a North Carolina bus accident.
Greyhound offers 7 fixed intercity routes in North Carolina. The NCDOT partners with Greyhound Lines Inc. and Sunway Charters to provide busing as an alternative to driving between major cities. These routes receive federal, state and local funding, and they offer transportation between urban and rural areas.
North Carolina has the following intercity routes:
North Carolina owns nearly 14,000 public school buses, maintains 80 community transit systems, and is home to more than 20 urban transit systems.
“BOSS” stands for “Bus on Shoulder System” in North Carolina.
In an attempt to maintain bus schedules and decrease congestion, the NC Department of Transportation allows buses to travel on the shoulders of designated interstates and other roadways.
If a bus is traveling on the shoulder, it must:
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 that most bus passengers don’t wear seatbelts and buses aren’t usually equipped with airbags.
There are 4 ways to be injured in a bus accident:
These are 4 important elements of any personal injury claim that bus accident victims should understand:
One reason why buses are considered a safer form of transportation is that the size of the bus and certain safety measures usually mean that most minor bus collisions don’t result in any injuries, at all. You might feel afraid, shaken up, or angry if you were a passenger on a bus that was in a minor accident. After all, you rely on public transportation to be safe and maybe to save you the stress of driving yourself.
But those feelings don’t necessarily mean you can claim damages.
You can only claim damages in a North Carolina bus accident (or for any personal injury) if your injuries included a financial cost.
You can bring a claim for damages to cover costs that include:
In some circumstances, you can include a claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are a punishment issued by the court against a defendant who acted in an especially malicious or reckless way. It’s often a way to deter the defendant or others from behaving that way in the future.
The first aspect of a personal injury claim is establishing who’s liable.
This step can be particularly tricky in a bus accident. If the driver caused the collision, liability might still rest on the bus company as their employer. If the accident is from an equipment malfunction, liability could be on the manufacturer of the bus or one of its parts. If the bus is involved in an accident with a car, it’s possible that driver is at fault.
As a bus passenger, you might not know right away who is the liable party. After all, for many people who travel by bus, they’re using that time to read, sleep, work, or otherwise relax. You’re likely not paying attention to the traffic when you’re a bus passenger, so you probably have no idea how an accident happened.
The North Carolina Tort Claims Act (NCTCA) allows citizens to sue the state if an officer, employee, or agent negligently causes harm while acting within the scope of their duties. In other words, if you were injured in a North Carolina bus accident involving a bus owned by a municipal authority, you might be able to sue the North Carolina Department of Transportation just as you would if it were a private entity.
The driver is ultimately responsible for operating a bus safely.
If the bus belongs to a private company, you might be able to make a claim against the company for the driver’s negligence. The vicarious liability doctrine says that an employer can be held liable for the action of an employee.
If the bus belongs to a government agency or municipality, you might be up against sovereign immunity. That means you can’t sue the government for its employee’s negligent act. If that happens, you might need to file a claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission in order for the government to waive its sovereign immunity.
It’s possible to bring a successful claim against a government entity, but you’ll need an experienced North Carolina lawyer who’s familiar with the laws and strategies for doing so.
The Transportation Research Board (TRB) says the school bus is the safest way for students to travel back and forth to school.
“Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car.”
In fact, the most dangerous part of the school day “commute” is a student getting to and from the bus stop, and getting on and off the bus.
A school bus is designed with safety features that make them safer than a passenger car. For example, protective seats, high crush standards, rollover protection features, and high visibility can prevent a student from being injured in the event of a crash.
In addition, the School Bus Stop Law in North Carolina requires all vehicles in both directions to stop in order to let students cross when a school bus comes to a halt and its red light stop arm is out. The only exceptions are if the bus stops on a divided highway with a median or if there’s a 4-lane highway with a center turning lane. In those instances, only the traffic traveling the same direction as the bus must stop.
If you’re involved in a bus accident, the first priority is to call first responders who will provide medical treatment to anyone who’s injured, including yourself.
In a regular car or truck accident, you should try to gather evidence at the scene where possible — for example, other drivers’ contact information, witnesses, etc. A bus accident might be different, though, especially if there are a lot of people involved. It’s often best to let first responders and police do their jobs and process the scene. Witness information and other evidence can be gathered from the police reports later.
If you have suffered injuries from a North Carolina bus accident, you want to consult with a personal injury lawyer. Your lawyer will advise you of your legal options for securing a full financial recovery.