A Common carrier is a public or private agency that owns and operates public transit vehicles. The ‘common carrier’ title applies to taxis, trains, cruise ships as well as charter buses, public transport buses and also school buses. They are all in the business of transporting people to and from different places, and the State government regulates them. This regulation essentially means that if a bus driver is negligent, for example, by driving while intoxicated or driving too fast, he/she can be liable for injuries arising from the negligence. However, if the bus driver is acting rationally, but a negligent driver hits the bus, the bus driver cannot be held accountable for the injuries arising from the accident. 

Because buses are big, bus accidents are often more severe than collisions involving cars. The damages and injuries are often graver because the buses carry more people. If you are involved in a bus accident, common carrier law and the litigation process may be too complicated for you. Whether you were a passenger on the bus or a bus hit you, you should know your rights as well as the regulations that determine compensation for your injuries. Talking to our experienced Clay County Personal Injury Attorney can mean the difference between receiving payments for your injuries or walking away empty-handed.

Responsibilities of Bus Operators

Every day, thousands of people travel using buses. Workers use buses to work while children ride school buses to school. Under common carrier law, operators and owners of transit buses have greater responsibility for the safety of their passengers than private car owners.

Because of the large numbers of passengers, owners and operators of transit buses must:

  • Maintain the buses regularly. The buses should undergo monthly inspection and general cleaning, while fluids, tires, and engines should be inspected before and after completing each route.
  • Allow passengers to board and alight in safe, designated pick up and drop off locations.
  • Warn passengers in case of any danger ahead.
  • Notify passengers on how to ride safely, for example, using handrails.
  • Instruct passengers to sit correctly and only stand when they are leaving.
  • Observe traffic rules carefully and avoid collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians. An accident caused by a misdemeanor or negligence can lead to a maximum fine of $1,000.
  • Ensure that the drivers work for only a specific number of hours for the drivers to be mentally and physically fit to drive many passengers.

Laws Regulating Bus Accidents

The government owns and operates most public transport buses in Florida. You can bring a claim against the government in case you are injured in an accident involving a government bus such as a school bus or public bus due to negligence from the bus driver. Florida Tort Claims Act allows you to file a lawsuit against the government agency responsible for managing the bus operations. The agencies are usually self-insured. Filing any case against the government can be tricky, and you cannot do it alone. It is, therefore, critical that you consult an attorney who has experience in filing such claims. While filing your case against the government agency, you must follow strict procedures and observe the timelines given. Government officials will not process your application if it is against the wrong agency or if it is time-barred.

Also, there is a cap on the compensation amount that you can obtain. If you have purchased health or life insurance coverage, the insurer can claim compensation. Unfortunately, payment for public transit accidents is lower than compensation for personal injury claims. It is a maximum of $100,000 regardless of the severity of your injuries.

If you suffer injuries from an accident arising from a driver’s negligence, the case is quite straightforward. You can sue the bus company and the driver. The two are legally required to purchase substantial insurance coverage for covering such accidents. Due to this requirement, the insurer will most likely offer you a settlement to avoid higher payouts that may be awarded by a jury.

If a negligent driver strikes the bus in which you are riding, and you suffer injuries, you can file a case against that driver as well as his insurer. The insurance company may also opt for a settlement to avoid the risk of having a jury award you a higher payout.

Statutes of Limitation

Statutes of limitation ensure that you file your case when the information is fresh and reliable. The goal is to file lawsuits when the incidents are more recent, the memory of the witnesses’ is more precise, and documents are readily available. Generally, the statute of limitations for bus accidents is four years. However, if your claim is against the government, the limit is three years. Also, any claim against the government has a mandatory investigation period of 180 days.

The Complex Nature of Bus Accident Lawsuits

In the case of an accident, buses cause more severe injuries because they are bigger than private motor vehicles. A lawsuit against a publicly or privately owned bus is more complicated than a personal injury claim because you must consider many factors such as insurance claims, the extent of your damages, and public transit laws. If you are injured while riding the bus, Personal Injury Protection insurance is not applicable. This insurance only applies if you are hit and injured by a bus while traveling in a private vehicle.

In a regular car accident, you can quickly determine who is responsible by investigating the cause of the accident. However, bus accidents are more complex. You must establish who is responsible for the bus passengers’ safety, and the person responsible for the safe functioning of the bus.

There are several possible scenarios relating to your bus accident compensation claim:

  • If the driver of a different car is responsible for the accident, you can seek compensation through a third-party claim against that driver’s insurer. You may request payment for lost income and medical expenses, among others.
  • If the bus driver is liable, the process becomes more complicated, especially if the bus belongs to a government entity. Government bodies own most school and public transportation buses.
  • If the driver of a privately owned bus causes an accident, you can either file a claim with the bus insurer, the bus company, or both. Your attorney can help you determine the best approach to get your rightful compensation.

If the defendant denies your claim for compensation, you may go to the appropriate court and file your compensation claims lawsuit.

Determining Fault Factors

Once a bus accident occurs, the police, the bus company, and the insurance company will conduct initial investigations to establish the fault factors as well as the liability of each party.

The leading causes of accidents involving buses are:

  • Fatigued drivers at the wheel
  • Drivers who drive driving under the influence of narcotics, stimulants, and intoxicants.
  • Drivers with little or no appropriate training or were not screened before they were employed.
  • Lack of safety equipment and training for the driver
  • Overloaded buses
  • Technical problems due to poor maintenance of the buses
  • Inadequate or non-existent safety procedures and failure to explain the procedures to the passengers.
  • Hazardous roads
  • Negligence or violation of the law by other private or public vehicle drivers, and pedestrians.

The liability of bus companies, drivers, and conductors partly depends on these factors. These fault factors will also determine the success of your compensation claim. You must have compelling evidence to determine the cause of the accident. If you were a passenger on the bus, you should know the bus number and keep badges and tickets as evidence. If other passengers also sustained injuries in the accident, you can collect and combine all the testimonies to strengthen your case.

If you were traveling in a private vehicle or a pedestrian, you could present witness testimonies and CCTV footage as evidence. You also need to at least identify the bus operator. If you are not a passenger on the bus, the lawsuit becomes more complicated because the court must determine who between you and the bus operator is liable.

After you prove that the bus company is at fault, you must show the severity of your damages. Buses are big, so accidents often result in severe injuries like spine and brain injuries, disfigurement and paralysis. If you were hospitalized, you must show the hospital and medication receipts. In case of death, your family member can provide identification documents and claim compensation. If the accident causes damage to your vehicle, you can present the repair costs by providing all the receipts. You can also submit a list of future expenses to cover long-term damage.

Exceptional Risks Associated With Bus Accidents

Using private and public buses as your mode of transportation is quite safe. Compared to cars and motorcycles, the risk of bus accidents is lower. However, buses are subject to accidents which can cause personal injuries to passengers, drivers, and conductors, as well as pedestrians and motorists. Buses have attributes that increase the possibility of personal injuries in case an accident occurs.

Unlike sports utility vehicles, trucks, sedans, among others, the law does not require buses to be fitted with safety devices. Bus passengers do not have airbags, seat belts, or helmets. Consequently, in case of a crash or collision, the risk of personal injuries is high. Also, the risk of tip-overs or rollovers in buses is higher compared to regular passenger cars. Buses are larger, but they are more predisposed to rolling or tipping over due to their design.

What to do When You Are Involved in a Bus Accident

After a bus accident, there are several things that you can do to safeguard your right to fair compensation. There is no mandatory procedure for obtaining compensation; neither is there a specific order that your actions must follow. The only exception is when you have to file a formal claim if your case involves a government entity. However, the following actions can make your claim process easier.

  1. Seek medical treatment

The most critical thing to do after you are involved in an accident is seeking medical services. If you suffer any injuries, visit a doctor for your health’s sake. Additionally, if you do not go to a hospital, the jury and the insurance adjuster may assume that your injuries were not serious.

  1. Take notes

Among the first things that you need to do after an accident is to write down every possible detail about the accident, your injuries, and any losses you may have suffered due to the accident. Take notes on everything that you think might affect your compensation claim. The notes may be useful when you are demanding compensation because written notes can provide more reliable details than your memory.

As soon as you can, write down the details that you can recall about the accident, including your destination, who you were with, weather conditions and the time. Include details of what you heard, saw, and felt such as shocks, blows, and twist to your body right before, during, and after the accident. It is also important to include anything that you may have heard from another victim or a witness concerning the accident.

In the days after the accident, write down all the pain and discomfort from your injuries. Discomfort, pain, anxiety, and loss of sleep may not be visible, but they can be a basis for you to demand more compensation. When you are filing your claim, the notes will relieve you of the mental pressure of having to remember the kind of pain or discomfort you endured.

Also, writing about your injuries may help in your medical care. Some relatively small injuries may seem insignificant, but they might help the doctor diagnose complications that may arise later. The injuries will also be added to your medical records, which will be used as evidence in your compensation claim.

It is necessary to have evidence of any economic or other losses arising from the accident. Such losses include job opportunities, wages, meetings, and other items which would have been beneficial to you, but you lost it due to the accident. Also, write down the time, date, content, and people involved in telephone or face-to-face conversations about the accident.  The communication can be with witnesses, adjusters, insurance agents, or medical practitioners.

    1. Preserve all possible evidence

The days immediately after an accident are crucial in finding and preserving proof of the accident and evidence of your injuries. You can preserve evidence by taking photographs and collecting physical evidence. If possible, go back to the accident scene, photograph the conditions, and collect evidence that you believe caused the accident. 

You will also need to preserve physical evidence such as a dent on a car or the bus showing the point of contact. Physical evidence can also help in proving the extent of your injuries. A damaged vehicle can demonstrate the extent of a collision while bloodied clothing can illustrate the extent of physical injuries. If possible, you can preserve the physical evidence in its state right after the accident, but if you cannot keep it, you can photograph it.

Here are some useful tips on photographing evidence:

  • Regular photos have better light conditions and show more detail than polaroids.
  • Take several photos at different angles and pick the one that best highlights the evidence
  • For accuracy, take the photos directly after the accident or as soon as possible.
  • Have the prints developed immediately with the date at the back of each photograph or on the receipt?

It is also critical to have photos of your injuries where possible. You can photograph visible swelling, cuts, bruises, splints, casts, and bandages. Because physical injuries heal with time, the photographs serve as evidence of the extent of your injuries.

  1. Locate and identify witnesses

Locate any witnesses to the accident, or who know other accidents that may have occurred at the same spot, and who might help you in proving your case.  Witnesses may provide new information which places fault on the other person. Even witnesses who did not see the accident can testify about your pain and discomfort after the accident. A witness may also have heard another person’s statement indicating that another person was liable. However, if you do not contact the witnesses and confirm their information immediately, their memory may fade, or they may move away.

  1. Notify the responsible party about your plan to file a compensation claim for the injuries.

You do not need to notify the people that caused your injuries within specific time frames unless your claim is against a government body or employee. However, informing the parties a few days after the accident increases your chances of quickly receiving a fair resolution. Notifying the other party also protects your rights and keeps others from viewing your claim as unfair because you took long before informing them of your injuries. After you notify them, you can process and negotiate your claim at your pace.

Filing a Claim Against the Government

Sometimes, it is necessary to file personal injury claims against government entities. Although filing a court case against the government is difficult, it is possible. For example, if you are involved in an accident with a local government bus, you will need to file a personal injury claim against the government.

If the State or State instrumentalities and agencies own and operate the bus that is involved in an accident, you must do the following in your compensation claim:

  • Make your claim against the correct public entity or its officer, employee, or agent.
  • Detail the place, time and circumstances leading up to your claim
  • Indicate your name and address. This information helps the government agency to respond to your claim.

Ensure that you observe the statutes of limitation because elapsed deadlines may cause you to lose your right to file a compensation claim and all other related lawsuits.

There are several factors that you must consider when filing your compensation claim against the State government of Florida, its instrumentalities, agencies, and its agents, officers, or employees. Government bodies at the federal, state and local levels enjoy sovereign immunity that protects them from liability lawsuits. However, that immunity does not apply to all claims.

Section 768.28 of the Florida Statutes states that for certain torts, the State relinquishes the right to sovereign immunity and consents to being named as a respondent in lawsuits for such torts. The specific torts must be among those mentioned in Section 768.28. Your personal injury lawyer will help you to determine whether you have a chance at filing a case against the government.

If a government body or its employee injures you, you may claim compensation for the injuries you sustained if:

  • That injury was a result of omission, negligence or wrongful acts of that agency or the agency’s employees
  • Your losses can be repaid in monetary damages as it usually happens in a majority of negligence cases
  • The circumstances leading to your injuries are such that as a private party, the negligent person would still have been answerable for the injuries.

After an accident, it is critical that you file your claim notice as soon as you can. If you are not sure about the government agency that can be liable for the accident, it will work in your favor if you send the notice to the agency that you think maybe culpable. Your notice of claim serves to inform the government that you sustained injuries. Indicate that the notice you are filing is against a public entity.

The government will generally deny your claim. In such a scenario, you can file a case in civil court against the specific government body. Depending on which government body is involved, the maximum number of days allowed to submit your personal injury claim may vary. Generally, you must file your claim against the government within the specified period after the accident happens.

Consult a Clay County Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me

Every bus accident is unique, and the solutions must be customized to your situation. The process of filing a bus accident compensation claim is complicated and time-consuming. The paperwork is full of many details, and the details are too advanced for a layman. Before you decide to file your compensation claim, it is prudent to hire an accomplished attorney to handle the claim on your behalf. For claims in Clay County, call the Clay County Personal Injury Attorney at 904-494-8242, and we will provide reliable information regarding your case to increase your chances of receiving compensation.