Who’s liable when a public or private bus is involved in an accident?
Two school buses collided on a road in Clarendon, South Carolina in 1954.
The southbound school bus, driven by 17-year-old Will Lemon, was attempting to pass a vehicle in thick fog when it plowed into the northbound school bus, driven by 16-year old W.G. Ridgeway.
Two children were killed and 43 others were injured. The school district’s decision to employ teenage bus drivers as a cost-cutting measure was heavily scrutinized after the accident.
Fortunately, it’s much more difficult to become a bus driver in South Carolina today. Nevertheless, bus accidents still happen and when they do there are certain steps you need to take to recover damages.
Types of buses in South Carolina
The term “bus” refers to large private and public vehicles that transport passengers. In South Carolina, this includes:
- Public transportation buses (CARTA, Coast RTA, etc.)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Greyhound, etc.)
- Airports and hotel shuttle buses
- Tour buses
- Private charter buses
- School buses
South Carolina bus accident statistics and injuries
In general, buses are much less likely to get into an accident than other types of vehicles.
In South Carolina, there were 269,752 vehicle accidents in 2018. However, buses were only involved in 739 (0.27%) of those accidents.
|South Carolina vehicle crashes (2018)|
|Unit||Fatal crashes||Serious injury crashes||Minor injury crashes||Property damage only crashes||Total crashes|
|Source: South Carolina Department of Public Safety|
What’s more, when buses are involved in accidents, passengers rarely suffer serious injuries. This is due, in part, to the fact that buses are large and feature compartmentalized seating, as well as the fact that buses tend to travel at slow speeds.
Nevertheless, injuries do happen. Bus accident injuries may include:
Common causes of bus accidents
Bus accidents happen for many of the same reasons car accidents happen. For example:
- Poor road conditions
- Dangerous obstructions
- Mechanical failure
There are also some factors that are more likely to contribute to bus accidents than car accidents. These include:
- Driver fatigue
- Inadequate training
- Improper maintenance
- Distractions by passengers
- Driver confusion with respect to bus operations
Who’s liable for a bus accident in South Carolina?
To recover damages for injuries sustained in a bus accident, you need to prove that someone else was liable (at-fault) for the accident.
Parties who may be liable for a bus accident include:
- Bus drivers. Bus drivers are common carriers, which means they have a duty to exercise the “highest degree of care” to avoid harming their passengers. If a bus driver breaches this duty by, for example, running a red light, they can be held liable for any damages that result.
- Other drivers. All drivers have a duty to exercise “reasonable care” to avoid harming others on the road. If a driver breaches this duty by, for example, driving while intoxicated, they can be held liable for any damages that result.
- Passengers. Other passengers on a bus can be held liable if their actions cause you harm. What’s more, bus drivers have a duty to protect passengers from being assaulted by fellow passengers so long as the bus driver knows or should have known of the potential assault.
- Manufacturers. If a bus accident is caused by a defective product (such as a faulty brake system), the manufacturer of the defect can be held liable for any damages that result.
The court found that after the bus stopped on the highway to pick up a student, the engine stalled. While the bus driver was trying to restart the engine, Stephen crashed into the back of the bus.
Numerous witnesses testified that the bus did not have any lights on at the time of the crash.
The court stressed that “where a motorist is suddenly placed in an emergency situation, he is not negligent if he makes a choice that a person of ordinary judgment might make if placed in the same emergency situation.”
However, the jury awarded Stephen $1.5 million in damages (reduced to $300,000 to comply with South Carolina’s damage cap for lawsuits against the government), reasoning that a person of ordinary judgment would have turned on their emergency lights after stalling on a highway.
Filing a lawsuit against the government
Public passenger buses and school buses are generally owned by the state or local government. As a consequence, most bus accident lawsuits are filed against the government.
Lawsuits brought against the government (or any government employee) must be filed under the South Carolina Torts Claims Act. There are a couple of important things to keep in mind when filing a lawsuit under the Torts Claims Act.
First, the amount of damages you can recover from the government is limited. Specifically, there’s a $300,000 damages cap in the vast majority of lawsuits filed against the government.
Second, the statute of limitations (i.e., the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit) is reduced from 3 years (when suing a private citizen or company) to 2 years. The statute of limitations can be extended to 3 years if you file a “verified claim for damages” and wait for 180 days (or until the court denies the claim).
What if a bus driver is injured in a bus accident?
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 on the job.
Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy, which means that you can’t file a workers’ compensation claim and file a personal injury lawsuit against your employer or colleague.
However, if someone other than your employer or colleague caused your bus accident, you can file a third-party lawsuit against them to recover any damages not covered by your workers’ compensation claim.
What damages can be recovered following a bus accident in South Carolina?
In South Carolina bus accident cases, plaintiffs can recover 3 types of damages:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the bus accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the bus accident (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly
5 steps to take after a South Carolina bus accident
The minutes, days, and weeks after a bus accident can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve compiled a checklist of 5 important things you can do after a South Carolina bus accident to improve your chances of recovering the damages you deserve.
- Get medical attention. Your health should be your top priority. Seeing a doctor after your bus accident isn’t just in the best interest of your health, it’s also in the best interest of your future lawsuit. Defendants have a more difficult time arguing that you weren’t seriously hurt when you have medical records to show the court.
- Gather evidence. If it’s safe to do so, collect the names and telephone numbers of any witnesses at the scene of the accident. It’s also a good idea to take photographs of the accident scene and any injuries you suffered.
- Follow your doctor's orders. In South Carolina, plaintiffs are required to “mitigate their damages.” In plain English, this means that you must do everything you can to minimize the losses associated with your injury. If you ignore your doctor’s orders by, for example, skipping an appointment or engaging in an activity that your doctor asks you to avoid, the defendant will use this information to reduce your damage award.
- Avoid posting about your accident on social media. You can’t improve your chances of recovering damages by posting about your accident or your injuries on social media, but you can certainly hurt your chances.
- Schedule an initial consultation with an attorney. The sooner you can meet with an attorney, the better. Consider reaching out to an attorney even if you’re not sure you need one, as most initial consultations are free.