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Who’s liable when a bus crashes and when should you contact a bus accident lawyer near you?
Traveling by bus is affordable, accessible, and eco-friendly. The state of Pennsylvania invests more than $1.5 billion annually in public transportation, which includes rural and urban fixed-route bus service throughout the state, as well as 13 intercity bus routes provided by 4 bus companies.
Like all states, Pennsylvania has its fair share of bus crashes.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), there were 622 commercial bus crashes and 309 school bus crashes in 2018. Of these crashes, 570 resulted in at least 1 injury and 17 resulted in at least 1 death.
Bus drivers and passengers in Pennsylvania can pursue compensation after a bus accident by filing an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit. Legally speaking, a bus accident isn’t quite the same as a car accident though.
Here’s what you need to know.
Types and causes of bus accidents
Pennsylvania defines “buses” as any vehicle designed to transport more than 15 people. Examples include:
- Public transportation buses (PAT, SEPTA, etc.)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Megabus, and Greyhound)
- School buses
- Airport and charter buses
- Tour buses
The laws and regulations, as well as the method of financial recovery, differ depending on which type of bus is involved in the accident.
Of all motor vehicle crashes in Pennsylvania, commercial bus crashes and school bus crashes are the rarest and least severe.
|Pennsylvania vehicle crashes by vehicle type (2018)|
|Vehicle||Fatal||Injury||Property damage only||Total crashes|
Some bus accidents involve crashes with stationary objects or other vehicles. Other bus accidents simply involve passengers getting hurt while boarding or exiting the bus.
Although crashes can happen in a variety of ways, some common causes of bus accidents in Pennsylvania include:
- Distracted driving
- Failure to obey traffic signals
- Driver fatigue
- Exceeding speeds safe for conditions
- Inadequate training
- Improper maneuvering
Interestingly, drunk driving is NOT a common cause of bus accidents in Pennsylvania. While 4.8% of passenger car crashes were caused by drunk driving in 2018, only 0.1% of bus crashes involved alcohol.
The driver of the bus, 2 bus passengers, and both occupants of the UPS truck were killed. Nearly all of the 61 passengers on the tour bus were injured.
Though the investigation is still ongoing, cell phone footage from the crash indicates that the driver of the bus may have been driving too fast for the conditions.
If the bus driver was driving too fast, the injured passengers and the families of the deceased will be able to recover damages by filing a negligence lawsuit. To support their claim, lawyers will likely review “black box data” from the bus, review cell phone footage, depose the surviving passengers, and hire an accident reconstructionist to analyze the scene.
Bus accident liability in Pennsylvania
Determining who’s liable for a bus accident requires that you determine who caused the accident. In most cases, there are 3 possibilities:
- Bus driver. The bus driver may be liable for a bus accident if they breach the standard of care owed to their passengers by, for example, speeding or running a red light.
- Manufacturer. The manufacturer of the bus or a bus component may be liable if the bus or component was somehow defective and the defect caused the accident.
- Other driver. Another driver on the road may be liable if they failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle.
If you were a passenger on a bus and the driver caused an accident, you’ll most likely file a negligence lawsuit to recover damages. To this end, there are a couple of important points to keep in mind:
- Bus drivers are considered common carriers in Pennsylvania. This means that the bus driver must exercise a higher degree of care than regular motor vehicle drivers. This is a relatively minor distinction, but it means that it’s easier to make out a negligence claim against a bus driver than a regular motor vehicle driver.
- Even though the bus driver caused the accident, you may be able to sue the owner of the bus (generally a private company or government entity) through the doctrine of respondeat superior. This legal doctrine makes owners liable for the acts of their employees. The benefit is that employers generally have more money (and more insurance) than employees, making it easier for you to recover damages.
Here’s a hypothetical to help you understand who may be liable in a bus accident:
Tom suffers whiplash and wants to file a lawsuit so that he can be compensated for his medical expenses and lost wages.
Who should Tom sue?
The bus driver owed Tom (and all other passengers) the “highest degree of care.” The driver breached this standard of care by texting while driving. In addition, Lisa owed Tom (and all other people on the road) the duty to exercise “reasonable care.” Lisa breached this standard by running a stop sign.
Ultimately, it’s not up to Tom to decide who’s more at fault or what percentage each party is at fault. Rather, Tom should sue both parties and let them point the finger at each other in court.
What’s more, in addition to suing the bus driver, Tom should sue the owner of the bus (in this case, the city of Pittsburgh) under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
Workers’ compensation for bus accidents
If you’re a bus driver involved in a bus accident, you’ll most likely file a workers’ compensation claim instead of a personal injury lawsuit. Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured on the job.
Workers’ compensation is no-fault insurance, which means that you can receive compensation regardless of who’s at fault for the accident.
Bus accident injuries and damages
Buses are large and generally travel at low speeds. As a result, serious injuries and fatalities are relatively rare. On the other hand, buses are generally not equipped with seatbelts and rollovers are more common than with smaller vehicles.
Common bus accident injuries include:
Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
Download in PDF format
Post-Accident Journal Form
Sample accident journal/diary to help you document the effect on your daily life
Download in PDF format
When to consult a Pennsylvania bus accident attorney
A bus accident isn’t as straightforward as a regular car accident. There may be several liable parties, including large companies (which have their own team of well-paid attorneys) and government agencies (which require a plaintiff to take several additional steps before filing a lawsuit). What’s more, there are usually dozens of witnesses (some of whom may be filing their own lawsuit).
Fortunately, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you navigate your bus accident claim.
To locate an experienced personal injury attorney in your area, check out our free online directory to view attorney profiles and schedule an initial consultation.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.