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When and how to find a Wisconsin bus injury lawyer who can help you receive compensation
Almost everyone has ridden a bus at one time or another. Whether it was a school bus you rode as a child, a public commuter bus or you’ve ridden a bus for long-distance travel, it’s likely that you’ve been a bus passenger at some time.
Riding a bus is usually pretty uneventful... it’s unlikely to be anything like the movie Speed with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock where the bus can’t drive fewer than 50 miles per hour, and also unlikely to be like the bus in Pitch Perfect, where the a cappella team breaks into song along a deserted highway. Lots of people love the bus because it offers affordable transportation that allows you to “check out” and not have to drive — you can read, relax, or nap while someone else takes care of getting you to your destination.
However, sometimes accidents or injuries happen, and you could be entitled to compensation if you are injured as a result.
How you pursue financial compensation for your injuries depends on which of these categories you’re in and how the accident happened.
Bus accidents and personal injury lawsuits
The main premise of personal injury lawsuits is that they make the plaintiff (injured person) financially whole. In other words, the legal system seeks to restore a person to the financial position they would be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
The way the courts do this is by awarding compensation to the injured person to cover expenses that include:
- Medical treatment, including doctor and hospital visits, surgeries, diagnostics like X-rays and MRIs or CT scans, prescription medication, and other treatments or procedures
- Ongoing rehabilitative therapies
- Lost earnings, including lost wages during your recovery from the accident and loss of future earning capacity if you’re left disabled and can’t return to work at the same job or rate of pay as you had previous to the accident
- Property loss
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress, PTSD, or other mental anguish
- Wrongful death, if you are the survivor of a person who died in an accident
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Punitive damages, which could be up to $200,000 in Wisconsin or twice the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater
However, arguably the most important part of determining whether you’re able to receive compensation is figuring out who was liable, or at fault.
Who are the defendants in a bus accident lawsuit?
In a bus accident, determining who the defendants are can be complicated because they could include government agencies, large companies, the bus manufacturer, or several other parties. Unlike a “regular” car accident, which often involves just 2 drivers, a bus accident could have several defendants.
Here are some examples of who might be liable for a bus accident (and how):
- Bus driver. Yes, the driver seems like the most obvious defendant when a bus crashes. And sometimes that’s true. But it can depend on who owns the vehicle. If it’s a city-run bus line and the driver is a city or municipal employee, they might have sovereign immunity. This is a legal doctrine that prevents lawsuits against the state government and its employees.
- Government agency. The bus driver isn’t the only government employee who could be negligent. If it’s a municipal bus service, there are also people who are tasked with performing routine maintenance checks and other duties that keep buses safe. And, accidents could happen because of poor road conditions, faulty traffic lights, or for other reasons that involve processes or systems maintained by a municipality.As is the case when the bus driver could be at fault, there might or might not be a way to sue a government agency in these instances. An accident involving a public school district bus would involve these same issues. Again, your lawyer is the best person to advise on whether this is possible in your specific case.
- Private bus company. If you’re in an accident with a charter bus (for instance, a bus hired for the purpose of transporting a team or group of people) or a private bus like Greyhound (which isn’t operated by a government agency), then the bus company could be liable for your injuries. The private bus company would likely also be liable if the accident was caused by a vehicle maintenance issue.
- Vehicle driver. You could be a passenger on a bus that’s in a collision caused by another car. If that happens, and if the driver of that car caused the accident, they might be the at-fault party. This would also apply to a bicyclist, pedestrian, or other road user who causes an accident.
- Bus manufacturer (or manufacturer of its parts). It’s possible that an accident could happen because of brake or steering failure, or the failure of other bus parts. If that happens, the liable party could be the manufacturer or the bus or a specific part.
Who are the plaintiffs in a bus accident?
This seems like a silly question, particularly if the plaintiff is... you.
But to really understand how bus accidents happen, it’s also important to look at who could potentially become injured on or around a bus:
However, like with any moving vehicle, there is a possibility of being involved in a bus accident. There are a few ways you could be injured in a Wisconsin bus accident:
- As a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other road user
- As a driver of another car or truck
- As a bus passenger
- As a bus driver
We’ll take a look at each of these categories separately and see how you might pursue a bus accident claim, depending on your involvement.
Bus accidents with pedestrians, bicyclists, or other road users (including bystanders)
You’ve heard the old “if I get hit by a bus...” hypothetical. And usually that’s all it is — hypothetical. But it can happen.
While there is no publicly available information on the outcome of this incident, it’s one example of how pedestrian/bus accidents happen. We know that it was dark at the time, but the outcome of a legal claim (if one is filed) would be based on the evidence discovered by the involved parties’ lawyers.
What will be important in this case and others like it is establishing fault.
Wisconsin follows a modified comparative fault (51% rule) system. In Wisconsin, if the plaintiff is 51% or more liable for the accident, they cannot recover any damages.
If a plaintiff is partially responsible for the accident, their damage award would be reduced by the amount for which they are at fault. This applies whether the plaintiff is a pedestrian, bicyclist, or anyone else.
Bus accidents with other vehicles
If you’re the driver or occupant of a car or truck and you’re involved in a collision with a bus, the same rules apply. If you’re at fault for less than 51% of the accident, you can claim damages with a deduction for your portion of fault (if any).
You generally have these options for making a claim against the at-fault party:
- File a claim to your own insurance company (which would likely file a subrogation claim against the at-fault party’s insurance company).
- File a claim directly with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against any parties who were at fault.
Injuries to bus passengers
There are several ways you could be injured in a bus accident as a passenger, and many don’t involve a crash.
Certainly, there are instances where buses are involved in crashes, off-road accidents, low bridge clearance accidents, or other situations where a passenger could become injured. But often, injuries happen as trip- or slip-and-fall accidents on and off the bus or in the aisles, bumps to the head or extremities, or other types of similar injuries.
Wisconsin’s modified comparative fault rule would apply in this situation, too. If you’re “just” a passenger who is seated and the bus crashes, there’s likely no way for you to be liable. But if you trip and fall, the court might look at whether you had any liability — like if you were wearing shoes with high heels or slipper soles, or if you were carrying heavy luggage, or things like that.
Along those same lines, if you are crossing the street to board or leave a bus, or you’re running to catch the bus, or any other activity associated with becoming a bus passenger, an injury would be considered a bus accident even if you weren’t actually on the bus at the time.
Injuries to bus drivers
If you’re injured at work, most likely you can file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. This might depend on your employment status, though. If you’re working as an independent contractor for a bus company (meaning you’re not on the payroll, but you have a contract and are paid hourly), then workers’ compensation might not apply. There are exceptions to this rule, however, so if that’s your situation, it’s worth calling a workers’ comp attorney to find out if you’re entitled to workers’ compensation benefits even if you’re a contract employee.
If you are a full-time or part-time employee of a bus company, you’re a school district bus driver, or you’re employed by a municipality as a bus driver, then you may be eligible to receive benefits from workers’ comp insurance that include:
- A portion of your lost wages during the recovery period
- Medical treatment, including transportation to medical appointments
- Rehabilitative therapies
- Survivor benefits for family members of an employee who is killed in an accident
School bus accidents
School buses are designed and built to keep children safe. A school bus distributes crash force differently from cars or trucks. The seats on a school bus provide “compartmentalization,” which protects passengers in the absence of seat belts. The bus seats are strong, closely spaced, and include energy-absorbing seat backs.
The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office reported that the driver of the car was cited for failure to yield at a stop sign. None of the 26 bus occupants were injured, but the 2 occupants of the car were transported to the hospital for serious injuries.
If an accident happens involving a school bus, the same rules apply regarding liability for any other type of bus accident in Wisconsin. However, there are special traffic laws that apply to school buses.
The Wisconsin DOT has shared these rules for passing a stopped school bus:
Drivers must stop on the street or highway 20 feet or more from any school bus that has stopped and is flashing red warning lights.
- This applies both to vehicles approaching from the rear and from the opposing lanes.
- All lanes of traffic must stop for the school bus, except in opposing lanes if the highway is divided with a center median.
- No vehicle may proceed until the bus resumes motion and has turned off the red warning lights.
- The stop arm on the bus is an added communication to other drivers, but the lack of an extended stop arm is not reason to pass a bus whose red lights are flashing. (source)
Sometimes, the bus signals are only yellow lights (not red) so motorists should be aware of the laws wherever they’re driving.
Common causes of Wisconsin bus accidents
A bus accident can happen in a variety of ways, but here are some of the most common causes:
- Driver error. All drivers make mistakes, even when they’re trying to do the right things. One problem with buses is that because they’re so large, it can be difficult for a driver to see other vehicles on the road. Buses have more blind spots than passenger cars, and it can be difficult to maneuver and merge into traffic.
- Driver fatigue. Bus drivers have rigorous schedules and it’s a tough job. Exhaustion is common. When a driver gets tired, their reaction times are slower and they become less alert, which can be a major factor in causing an accident.
- Driving while intoxicated. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) is illegal for all drivers, and it’s especially problematic for a bus driver who’s transporting passengers. Bus drivers who are operating vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs can be criminally charged and held liable for civil damages.
- Bus maintenance. State and federal laws require bus companies to perform certain routine maintenance checks to ensure that buses are safe and functioning properly, but some companies fail to perform the required checks.
- Mechanical problems. Brakes, tires, suspension, steering, and lights are all components that could break down during the operation of a bus—even with regular maintenance. If a defective part causes an accident, the manufacturer may be held liable under Wisconsin’s product liability laws.
- Road design. Buses maneuver differently from cars because of their massive size, shape, and height. Sharp curves, short merging lanes and areas of poor visibility can result in bus accidents.
- Weather conditions. Snow, heavy rain, wind, and other common bad weather conditions in Wisconsin can leave roads slippery and impact the driver’s visibility or maneuverability.
- Road conditions. Weather isn’t the only condition that causes accidents. Potholes, poor lighting, construction zones, unmarked curves and other road maintenance issues can cause bus accidents.
If you or a loved one were seriously injured in a Wisconsin bus accident, we recommend contacting a personal injury lawyer for help and advice. A knowledgeable attorney can help you navigate the legal system and recover the compensation you need to cover your accident-related costs.
Need legal advice? You can start by visiting the free Enjuris law firm directory to find a Wisconsin bus accident lawyer nearby.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.