Bus accidents, whether they involve school buses or commercial buses, are governed by complex laws and regulations that effect the operation of public and private buses. Any attorney handling these types of claims needs to be familiar with these laws and regulations.
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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) define a bus in a very broad fashion. Those regulations then narrow that definition down to include vehicles designed for the transport of more than eight (8) passengers for compensation or those designed for transport of more than 15 passengers without compensation. The federal statute governs most buses that are on the road in terms of fitness, qualifications, training and supervision of the driver. Many bus accidents are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which typically issues a very thorough report. Although that report is not admissible at trial, it will provide helpful leads.
In those instances where the carrier is not engaged in interstate commerce then the federal regulations may not apply but in spite of that they should be your starting point for research. Those national rules frequently are mimicked at the state level. To the extent that the bus is a common carrier then it’s required to exercise the utmost diligence and skill. A private carrier on the other hand is only required to exercise reasonable care.
There are several different types of carriers that may exist:
It’s important to identify all of the potential culpable parties which may include not only the driver and the bus company but the tour company that organized the trip if one exists, the company that maintained the bus, any companies that contract with the bus company to bring people to its site or business and the bus manufacturer or distributor.
In looking at negligence and causation issues in a bus accident case there are several things to be considered:
If the driver of the bus is a government employee, then that driver, in some jurisdictions, may have full or limited sovereign immunity. That immunity, however, may not apply for acts of gross negligence, i.e. negligence of a degree that exceeds what is called “ordinary negligence”. That driver’s employer, however, may not be entitled to sovereign immunity and therefore the employer can be sued.
In some jurisdictions, governmental buses are entitled to certain special protections. There may be limitations on the amount of any monetary recovery against the employee or employer for governmental bus accidents. This may apply to school bus accidents in some jurisdictions. In addition, there may be certain notice requirements that have to be met in terms of giving proper notice to the governmental entity before a claim can be asserted. If that notice is not given, then the person’s claim may be time barred.
Common carriers are held to a higher degree of care than are persons transporting passengers not for hire. This does not mean that common carriers are necessarily insurers of every passenger’s safety but they are required to exercise a high degree of care.
Bus safety standards may be in for some changes as a result of a recent spate of bus accidents. As of April 1, 2011, there was a move in the U. S. Congress to improve bus safety by requiring seat belts, stronger roofs, better windows and also electronic stability controls. These features are designed primarily to combat roll-overs and passenger ejections which are the primary causes of death in bus collisions.Any accident lawyer handling bus accident cases should be attuned to these issues.Similar legislation last year that was near to being passed died as a result of the objection of Senator Coburn from Oklahoma. It is unknown as to what his position will be in the future on these legislative changes.
The bus industry across the United States is a complex patchwork of companies, many of which come and go with serious accidents. That is, after a serious accident the bus company involved may simply dissolve and reincorporate under a different name thereby attempting to dodge the bad reputation that had followed the predecessor company.
Bus seat belts could well make the difference between life and death in a bus crash.
In the 2011 case of Doomes v. Best Transit Corporation, the New York Court of Appeals noted that this state law claim premised upon the absence of seat belts in this commercial bus was not preempted by federal law either expressly or impliedly.
Express preemption may exist where there is plain language in the statute indicating that the federal government intends to fully occupy this field. Implied preemption may exist where the federal statute is so broad that it may be properly inferred that Congress wished to fully occupy the field or, in the alternative, where state law conflicts with federal law.
In regards to this particular bus accident case, the Court noted that the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do require the driver’s seat to have a seat belt but do not require seat belts on passenger seats. These standards were promulgated under the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act which does expressly state in conjunction with the preemption provision that common law claims are preserved.
The Court of Appeals, in this instance, concluded that there clearly is no express federal preemption and likewise no implied preemption since it is possible for a bus manufacturer to comply with the federal standard requiring a driver’s seat belt and also to comply with the common law standard that seat belts should have been installed for passengers.
A bus crash that occurred in early March 2011 killing 15 passengers in the Bronx, New York carried principally Chinese workers to out of town restaurants and Chinese immigrants day-tripping to gambling casinos.
Chinatown tour buses have been known for a long time as a cheaper alternative for travel to certain cities in the United States.
Chinese culture views gambling as a mode of relaxation. As a result, many Chinese workers, after a long day on the job, opt to day-trip to nearby casinos to gamble into the late hours of the evening and then return to their home city for another full day of work. This is viewed by many as a way of relaxing.
In addition, many Chinese workers travel long distances overnight to restaurant employment in distant cities only to return that same day to their home location and then to begin the cycle again the next day.
This niche Chinese bus business, although part of the American immigrant tradition, in this instance resulted in a deadly crash killing 15 passengers.
If you or a loved one has been a injured by a bus accident in Virginia or Washington DC, contact Brien Roche today for an experienced, aggressive attorney.
For more case results that Brien Roche has handled, see our Verdicts and Settlements and Reported Cases. All case results are specific to the facts of that case and no conclusion can be drawn as to how your case may turn out based upon the results of another case.
For more information about vehicle accidents see the pages on Wikipedia.