Traveling on Charter Buses is No Guarantee of Safety From Accidents
While chartering a bus or taking a charter bus to your destination can be a safe and cost-efficient means of getting to a tourist destination, particularly in large groups, bus accidents happen. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that highway fatalities remain far more numerous than deaths by other means of travel, including by air, rail, or water. According to the DOT, there were 6.1 million automobile accidents in 2014 and 69,000 bus accidents. Together, these statistics make one thing clear: riding a bus can expose you to a significant risk of injury. Bus accidents can result in serious injuries, including:
- Fractures (broken bones) that require surgical repair;
- Head and brain injuries;
- Back & neck injuries
- Spinal cord injuries;
- Scars and lacerations;
- And in some cases, even death.
Given the risks, you should be aware of the consequences of being involved in a bus accident, particularly a charter bus accident.
Who Is Responsible for your Damages in a Charter Bus Accident?
When you are traveling on a charter bus, whether that bus is chartered by a private organization or through a government organization – such as a regularly scheduled commuter bus that is operated by a government agency – that bus may be considered to be a common carrier.
Common carriers have a legal responsibility to show a higher duty of care since they offer their services to the public for a fee. In general, a common carrier is absolutely liable for goods or persons it carries, with four exceptions:
- An act of nature
- An act of public enemies
- Fault or fraud by the shipper
- An inherent defect in the goods
Obviously, only the first two apply to passenger carriers, such as charter buses. In most instances, if a bus accident is caused by the negligence of the carrier or its driver, including such events as speeding, fatigue, maintenance failures, tire failures, or inadequate driver training, the carrier is liable for damages suffered by its passengers. When children or sick or disabled persons are injured while riding as passengers on a bus, other rules may apply as well.
Because charter buses often involve multiple layers of contractual relationships, liability can get complicated. If you are involved in an accident on a charter bus, the potentially liable parties could include:
- The tour company from whom the bus was chartered. The tour company typically contracts with a bus provider and has a duty to contract with a company that has a good safety record. If the bus company hired by the tour company has a poor safety record, the bus and tour companies both could be liable for an accident.
- The bus company that owns the chartered vehicle has a duty to keep reasonably safe buses in the company fleet. It also must hire drivers with the proper licenses. Even then, if the company’s driver is negligent, the company can still be liable for damages resulting from that negligence.
- Tour buses that stop at multiple tourist destinations likely are not liable for accidents that occur at the destinations – the venue where the accident occurs is likely the liable party – but that doesn’t mean the injured party won’t try to assign some liability to the carrier.
Are Charter Buses the Only Carriers Subject to Federal Regulations?
Interstate and commercial buses aren’t the only carriers liable as common carriers. The Department of Transportation has issued guidance stating that any carrier providing transportation for a fee, even if that fee is indirect (such as part of a package), is subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations. This includes shuttle services such as “whitewater river rafters, hotel/motel shuttle transporters, rental car shuttle services, etc.”
Casinos and hotels that provide shuttle services to local amenities fall under these regulations, even if they are subcontracting the transportation service. However, in such situations, liability can get murky and it pays to know who is conducting the transportation service.
Do Federal Regulations Require Insurance Coverage by Common Carriers?
As common carriers, charter bus services have to carry insurance coverage, and the amount of coverage depends on how many passengers they carry in a vehicle. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires minimum insurance coverage for for-hire carriers compensated “either directly or indirectly.” This includes charter buses and shuttle services contracted by a hotel, casino or other business. The regulations require minimum coverage of
- $1.5 million for vehicles transporting 15 people or fewer; and
- $5 million for vehicles transporting 16 or more passengers.
Obviously, those requirements do not truly provide adequate coverage in the event of an accident involving serious injuries. However, it is worth noting that insurance requirements are not liability limits. If damages to passengers exceed the insurance minimums, the carrier still can be held liable for amounts exceeding the federally required insurance levels.
Even given that, local or state regulations or laws can require higher levels of coverage. Those laws also may limit liability to the locally required insurance coverage. Illinois law does not allow such liability limits for a common carrier.
Is it Possible to Screen Charter Buses for Their Safety Record?
There are databases that can provide information on charter bus safety. Some are government-maintained, such as one run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That database provides information on common carrier safety data, including a database that allows consumers to check on charter bus companies’ safety records so that the public can review a bus company’s safety record before chartering one of that company’s buses.
Further, the American Bus Association also has a website designed to provide information about safety questions consumers might have before traveling by charter bus. The United Motorcoach Association has a website that provides information on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ratings of charter bus lines.
If You Have Been Involved in an Accident on a Charter Bus in the Chicago area, Contact the Attorneys of Abels & Annes
If you have been involved in an accident on a charter bus, you should consult an attorney to determine what your rights are under the circumstances of your accident. The attorneys of Abels & Annes can assist you in protecting your rights when you are involved in such an accident. Contact us at (312) 924-7575 or through our website.