Find out what to do if you’re injured in a bus accident in the Evergreen State
Whether it’s the King County Metro line in Seattle or the intercity lines that connect rural communities around Washington to urban centers, millions of Washingtonians depend on public and private buses to get around the state.
Fortunately, traveling by bus is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by automobile, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
But just because bus travel is safer than car travel, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get into a serious accident in the Evergreen State.
|Washington bus crashes (2020)
|Severity of accident
|Number of incidents
|Total bus crashes
|Source: Washington State Department of Transportation
In this article, we’ll take a look at the legal issues surrounding Washington bus accidents, including who may be liable for a bus crash and what damages you may be able to recover.
Types of buses in Washington
The term “bus” refers to large public and private vehicles that transport passengers for a fee. In Washington, this includes:
- Urban and rural public transportation buses (King County Metro, Valley Transit, TranGO, etc.)
- Private bus lines (Coach, Greyhound, etc.)
- School buses
- Airport and hotel shuttle buses
- Tour buses
Common causes of bus accidents
Bus accidents happen for many of the same reasons that car accidents happen. These include:
- Poor road conditions
- Dangerous road obstructions
- Mechanical failure
Additionally, there are some other factors that contribute to bus accidents more than car accidents. For example:
- Driver fatigue
- Inadequate training
- Improper maintenance
- Distractions caused by passengers
- Motor vehicle driver confusion with respect to bus operations
Bus accident injuries
The average city bus weighs 32,000 pounds and is just under 40 feet long, 9 feet wide, and 10 feet high. Although the large size helps keep passengers safe, there are a couple of bus-specific features that put passengers at risk:
- Due to their height, buses are more prone to roll-over accidents
- Buses in Washington (including school buses) are not required to be equipped with seatbelts or airbags
Common bus injuries include:
The crash occurred when the driver, Elmer Schuman of Pasco, changed from the right lane into the left lane on Interstate 90. The bus forced a Hyundai Elantra off the road, where it overturned and came to a stop. The bus then veered back into the right lane, striking a disabled pickup truck, which caused the bus to roll over.
The truck’s driver, Jeffrey Irmer of Spokane, was standing outside the truck when the bus slammed into it. The accident broke Irmer’s leg and he was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
Who’s liable (at fault) for a bus accident in Washington?
To receive compensation following a Washington bus accident, you must identify the person or entity responsible for the accident.
Determining who’s liable for a bus accident and how liability is established depends on the nature of the accident. Most bus accidents fall into 1 of 3 situations:
- Bus accidents caused by other drivers
- Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
- Bus accidents caused by mechanical defects
Let’s take a look at who to sue and how to establish fault in each situation:
Bus accidents caused by other drivers
A majority of bus accidents are caused by other drivers on the road.
To establish liability in these cases, you need to prove that the other driver was negligent. To do this, you must establish 3 things:
- Duty. You need to prove that the other driver owed you a duty of care. All drivers owe all others on the road a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care.
- Breach. You need to prove that the other driver breached their duty. In other words, you need to establish that the other driver failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care (for example, the driver was texting while driving or following the bus too closely).
- Causation. You need to prove that you were injured as a result of the driver’s breach. In other words, but for the driver’s breach, you wouldn’t have been injured.
As with car accidents, an injured bus passenger can file an insurance claim with the other driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
Bus accidents caused by bus drivers
In Washington, bus drivers are considered “common carriers.” Common carriers are held to an extremely high standard of care. Whereas most drivers have a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid harming others, bus drivers must exercise extraordinary care.
To establish liability against a bus driver, an injured passenger still has to prove the elements of negligence. However, the heightened duty makes this task a little easier.
An injured passenger can file an insurance claim against the bus driver’s insurance company or file a personal injury lawsuit against the bus company. Bus companies are liable for the actions of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior.
“I look out through the windshield and I see our headlights illuminating the snow,” said band member Alexia Brown. “We’re moving at a 45-degree angle towards the fence. We’re just sliding towards it.”
The bus was carrying 56 people, including members of the marching band and staff. A total of 47 people were taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.
The driver of the bus, Nancy Aguilar, was cited for driving too fast for the snowy conditions.
A lawsuit, which is still pending, was filed against the bus driver and the bus company.
Bus accidents caused by mechanical defects
If a bus accident is caused by a defect (for example, a defective tire), the manufacturer of the defective product can be held liable. This type of lawsuit is called a product liability lawsuit.
In Washington, product liability lawsuits are based on negligence or strict liability.
In a product liability case based on negligence, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- The defendant's breach caused the plaintiff's injuries.
In a product liability case based on strict liability, the plaintiff must prove that:
- The product was sold in an "unreasonably dangerous" condition,
- The unreasonably dangerous condition existed when the product left the defendant's control, and
- The dangerous condition caused the plaintiff's injuries.
What happens if a bus driver is injured in an 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 while doing their job.
Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy in Washington, 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.
Unique issues in bus accident injury claims
Most buses are owned or operated by government entities, such as school districts and public transportation departments. This means that if you’re injured in a bus accident, you may be filing a lawsuit against the government.
In Washington, filing a lawsuit against the government is more complicated than filing a lawsuit against a private party.
For starters, before filing the lawsuit, you must file a notice of claim with the government. The notice must include several pieces of information, including a brief description of the accident and the amount of damages sought. The claim must be filed within 3 years of the accident.
Once the notice of claim is filed, you must wait 60 days before filing a lawsuit in court. During this time, the government will review the claim and approve or deny it. If the government denies the claim, you can file your lawsuit in court.
Bus accident damages
Washington allows bus accident victims to recover the following damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages, property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by your accident (e.g., pain and suffering, loss of consortium).
Although most states allow punitive damages to be awarded for the purpose of punishing defendants for malicious, intentional, or reckless conduct, Washington, with few exceptions, does NOT allow plaintiffs in personal injury cases to recover punitive damages.
Finding a bus accident attorney in Washington
An experienced Washington personal injury attorney can handle insurance companies, government agencies, and other parties that may suddenly become a part of your life following a bus accident, as well as build your case and help you obtain the damages you deserve.