Bus Accidents and Common Carrier Laws

Learn about the special laws and procedural rules that could apply to an injury claim after a bus accident.

Millions of people in our country ride the bus each day to get to work, but rarely do any of them expect to be injured during their commute. However, each day in the United States there are over 30 bus accidents resulting in more than 70 passenger injuries.

Injuries are particularly likely after a bus accident because of the unique circumstances passengers are in while riding a bus. Passengers are often not required to wear seat belts. Additionally, many bus accidents occur while passengers are either walking or standing. Because of this, resulting accident injuries can be particularly severe.

Passengers who have been injured in a bus crash have a number of legal options available to them, but pursuing a personal injury claim after a bus accident is very different than if you were injured in an ordinary car accident. This is because of the unique laws that apply to buses. Read on to learn more.

What is a Common Carrier?

Under the law, buses are considered “common carriers.” A common carrier is a business that transports people or goods for a fee. Common carriers have very specific federal and state regulations that apply to them. These rules typically cover tour buses, school buses, city buses and commercial buses.

Who Do I Sue After a Bus Accident?

Bus accidents can be caused by a number of factors. In the case of long distance charter buses, driver fatigue is often an issue. Sometimes bus accidents are caused by a lack of proper maintenance of the bus or a faulty design of the vehicle. Many bus accidents involve a collision with another car and are caused by the negligence of the other driver. In fact, the most common cause of a bus accident is the bus driver’s negligence. (Learn more about Proving Fault for a Vehicle Accident.)

In addition to understanding the many possible causes of an accident, it is also very important to know where to present your personal injury claim, or whom you can sue. The options available to you depend on the cause of the accident.

For example, if the accident was caused by the fatigue or inattention of the bus driver, a claim against the charter company is probably appropriate. If the accident occurred because of improper maintenance, then the company that maintains the bus fleet might be responsible. A lawsuit against the driver of another car might be the appropriate remedy if that driver caused the accident.

It's important to note here that many buses are owned by cities or school districts. In this situation, yet another set of rules applies. Cities and school districts are government entities, and each state has very specific rules that control how personal injury claims can be brought. For example, if you are injured on a city bus and you wish to bring a claim against the city, many states have laws that require you to notify the city within three or six months of the date of the injury. In some states the time period is as short as thirty days. If you do not present your claim to the city, and in the proper form, most state laws prohibit you from later pursing a lawsuit. Most states have similar rules that apply to school districts.

In addition to the unique time restrictions on claims against government entities, each state also has a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits, which sets the time period within which you must bring a personal injury lawsuit. The time limit can be as short as one or two years, depending on the state in which you live. (Find the statute of limitations in your state in our Car Accident Laws section.)

What Types of Damages Can I Collect?

If you are injured in a bus accident, you may be entitled to collect compensation. This compensation is known as “damages” in legalese, and there are different categories of damages that you may be able to collect.

Typically you can recover damages for your medical bills and lost wages. These are known as “special damages” and they are meant to compensate you for your economic losses. You may also be able to collect “general damages”, that include such things as physical and mental pain and suffering. In rare circumstances you might even be able to collect “punitive damages.” Punitive damages are meant to punish the responsible party and to deter similar behavior in the future. Learn more about What a Vehicle Accident Claim Might Be Worth.

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