Cars and other types of private motor vehicles are not the only methods that people use to get around in Florida. Public transportation systems throughout the state provide 270 million trips to riders each year. One of those systems, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, has 200 buses servicing customers in a 1,000 square mile area including Tampa and surrounding communities. Just like any other vehicle, these buses can be subject to an accident. When a bus collides with another vehicle, pedestrian or stationary object, there can be serious personal injuries. Determining responsibility in a bus accident and identifying whom to file a claim against can be a challenge.
Common causes of bus accidents
A number of factors, whether on their own or in combination with each other, can cause a bus crash. These include:
- Mechanical failures to brakes, steering or other operating systems caused by inadequate maintenance
- Insufficient training of new bus drivers
- Hiring bus drivers without verifying their driving ability
- Drug or alcohol use by drivers
- Drivers distracted by passengers or other factors
- Fatigue caused by drivers working too many hours or not getting enough sleep
The size and weight of a bus along with its height make it difficult to steer. This is particularly true when attempting to avoid another vehicle or obstacle on the road. Any diversion of the driver’s attention can create a dangerous situation where the vehicle takes a turn at a higher rate of speed than is safe for conditions.
Parties responsible for bus crashes
Bus companies are responsible for hiring capable drivers and adequately maintaining the vehicles. This is not only for the safety of its riders but also for others on the road. A bus company that fails to operate according to these standards can be held liable for bus accidents. Other parties, however, can also be responsible for a bus accident. This includes any drivers whose negligent conduct caused or contributed to an accident occurring.
Proving negligence, whether against a bus driver, third-party driver or bus company, requires evidence of each of the following:
- The party had a duty to act with reasonable care.
- The party at fault breached that duty of care.
- The breach caused injury to another party.
For instance, let’s say that a bus driver is drowsy from a lack of sleep and crashes the vehicle into a tree. The driver had a duty to drive with due care and maintain control of the bus. The negligent driver could be liable for injuries suffered by passengers on the bus.
If the bus driver was fatigued because he/she was forced to work a second shift by the bus company without allowing time for adequate rest, both parties could potentially be held responsible. Even though instructed by the company, the driver, by agreeing to work the extra shift, remains negligent because they breached the duty of care by driving without sufficient sleep.
What to do if a bus driver causes an accident with injuries
Making a claim against a bus driver or against the owner of the bus can be a complex process. Government agencies own and operate some school buses, as well as those in public transit. Accidents involving state-owned or municipal vehicles are governed by a different set of rules. These lawsuits can be both time-consuming and difficult. State law dictates special guidelines for making a claim against state or local governments or one of their agencies.
Governments have sovereign immunity from personal injury claims. Florida has waived this immunity under statute 768.28 for claims under $200,000. If you are injured in a bus accident where a government agency bears responsibility, you may not be able to claim damages exceeding $200,000 without naming additional parties.
The law also requires that you file a written notice of the claim with the government entity before a lawsuit can commence. Failing to follow the special rules applicable to claims against a government entity or waiting too long to file the notice of claim could cause an injured person to lose the right to sue for damages.
What to do if a third-party driver causes a bus accident with injuries
A passenger injured in a bus accident has the right to make a claim for damages against anyone whose negligence caused or contributed to the accident. This would include the driver of another vehicle that collides with the bus. Third-party drivers can be sued by bus passengers for negligence even if their negligence was only part of the reason for the accident.
Speak to a bus accident attorney
Anyone injured in a bus accident should seek legal advice from a personal injury attorney experienced in handling bus accidents. The attorney should be consulted as soon after the accident as possible to avoid losing the right to sue for failure to give timely notice to the municipality operating the bus. Contact our experienced Tampa bus accident attorneys for a free consultation and case evaluation today.