Your Legal Options Following a Bus Accident
Every day, thousands of people across the country count on various forms of public transportation to take them safely to work, home and other destinations. In Kansas City alone, the Metro bus system is responsible for transporting more than 56,000 riders each week.
Unfortunately, taking public transportation is not without risk. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) there were nearly 13,000 bus accidents nationwide in 2009, resulting in more than 15,000 injuries. Closer to home, there were 251 bus accidents in Missouri and 51 in Kansas that resulted in nearly 700 total injuries to passengers last year.
Types of Bus Accident Injuries
Most people believe that a collision has to occur for a bus passenger to be injured. While it is true that collisions have the greatest potential for injuring the greatest number of people at one time, many passengers are injured while simply trying to board and/or exit public transportation.
Accidents while boarding or exiting a bus can occur for many reasons. For example, they may occur when a passenger slips and falls on a wet or icy surface or trips over a floor mat or other obstruction on the step or in the aisle. Recently, a Washington man won a $1.3 million award for the permanent injuries he sustained when exiting a Metro Transit bus. The man slipped on a step that became dangerously slippery when wet and now his lower leg is held together by two metal plates and 16 screws.
These injuries also can occur if there is inadequate lighting in the stairwell and the passenger cannot see where he or she is going. Additionally, passengers may be injured when the bus fails to pull up close enough to the curb for them to safely enter or exit the vehicle.
Passengers also can be injured when the bus driver quickly accelerates or unexpectedly stops. This is particularly dangerous for passengers who are standing and may be thrown by the sudden increase or decrease in acceleration.
Common Carrier Liability
Mass transit systems operated by a local, city or state agency – like the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) – are common carriers. Common carriers are types of public transportation that transport goods and/or people for a fee. Other examples of common carriers include taxi cabs, light rail systems and airplanes.
Legally, common carriers owe their passengers the highest duty of care to see that they arrive at their destination safely. This duty of care exists not only during the transport of passengers, but also while they are entering and exiting the common carrier. Accordingly, common carriers have a duty to ensure that passengers have a safe place to board and exit and to provide them with a reasonable amount of time to do so.
Other duties common carriers owe to their passengers include:
- The duty to regularly inspect and maintain their vehicles
- The duty to hire qualified drivers
- The duty to warn passengers of known dangers that are not readily observable
Who is Responsible for the Injury?
When a passenger is injured in a mass transit accident, more than one party may be held legally liable. Some of these parties may include:
- The bus driver has a duty to ensure that passengers arrive safely at their destinations. Accidents may occur if the driver fails to obey traffic laws, speeds, sends text messages or talks on the phone while driving or commits another negligent act.
- The bus company has a duty to hire qualified drivers and to ensure that their drivers receive the necessary training to perform their jobs. Bus companies such as Greyhound, First Student and city transit authorities are also responsible for maintaining the safety of their buses.
- The bus manufacturer has a duty to provide a product safe for its intended use. If there is a defect in the design or assembly of the bus or one of its component parts, then the injured passenger may be able to bring a products liability claim against the manufacturer, distributor, seller or other party in the chain of distribution.
In some cases, other third parties may be liable for a passenger’s injuries. This may include the driver of another vehicle that hit the bus or even other passengers on the bus who may be wholly or partially responsible for harming the passenger.
In cases where a passenger is injured by the negligent acts of a bus driver, bus company or other party, the passenger is legally entitled to compensation for his or her injuries.
While the type and amount of damages that may be awarded will depend on the facts of the specific case, some of the types of damages that generally may be available include:
- Past, current and future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering, emotional distress
- Attorney’s fees, court costs, interest
If the passenger died as a result of the accident, then the passenger’s family may be entitled to bring a wrongful death action against the responsible parties. Some of the types of damages that are recoverable in a wrongful death suit include funeral expenses, medical expenses and loss of companionship and financial services.
If you or a loved one has been injured entering, exiting a bus or while a passenger on a Metro bus, you may be entitled to damages for your injuries. To discuss your legal options, contact an experienced attorney today.