Charter Bus Accidents
When people book a charter bus, the last thing they expect is to get into an accident. Typically, charter buses transport groups of people to and from major events such as weddings, sports events, school field trips, and others. A charter bus has to share the road with other vehicles, which is why buses are just as likely to be involved in an accident as any other vehicle.
In most cases, the driver of the charter bus may not avoid a collision due to someone else’s negligence. In other cases, however, it is the driver of the charter bus who is responsible for the accident.
Traveling on charter buses is no guarantee of safety from accidents. 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. This is particularly true in large groups. However, bus accidents do happen.
If you or your loved one suffered injuries in a charter bus accident, consider contacting an experienced personal injury attorney to help you understand your options for compensation.
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.
Multiple Parties May Be at Fault for Causing a Charter Bus Accident
It is not uncommon for charter bus accidents to involve multiple at-fault parties, which is why you may need a comprehensive investigation to assign responsibility and hold at-fault parties accountable for the crash.
An experienced attorney will review all the facts surrounding the accident to identify all potentially liable parties. Holding the appropriate party liable for the collision will help you make sure that you receive the compensation to which you are entitled.
When is the Charter Bus Driver at Fault for the Accident?
It is not uncommon for drivers of charter buses to be at fault for causing the accident.
Common examples of fault on the part of a charter bus driver include:
- Fatigue. Many bus drivers do not get enough rest and sleep, which is why they often operate buses while fatigued. The bus company might be responsible for the collision if it forced the driver to operate the bus despite knowing that the driver spent the whole day driving.
- Distracted driving. Driving a bus can be quite monotonous, which is why many bus drivers are easily distracted behind the wheel. That is why we often see bus drivers texting, smoking, talking on the phone, eating, and engaging in other distracting activities.
- Driving under the influence. Unfortunately, some drivers of charter buses drive while impaired by alcohol or drugs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol intoxication impairs thinking, reasoning, and physical performance, all of which increase the risk of crashing.
- Driving too fast for conditions. Charter bus drivers often drive faster than is reasonable to avoid being late. Driving too fast can result in accidents, especially in inclement weather conditions.
- Failure to check blind spots. Buses have large blind spots. When a bus driver fails to clear the blind spots before performing dangerous maneuvers such as turning or changing lanes, accidents are likely to happen.
- Failure to obey traffic rules. When bus drivers fail to follow traffic rules, such as failing to yield the right of way or stop at a red light, they can be held responsible for any resulting accidents.
If you were in a charter bus accident, contact an attorney to investigate the crash and determine if the bus driver caused the accident.
Injuries in Charter Bus Accidents
Passengers aboard a charter bus accident are likely to sustain severe injuries due to the lack of airbags, seatbelts, and other types of protection.
Common injuries suffered by victims of charter bus accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Broken bones
- Internal organ damage
- Knee injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Lacerations and deep cuts
- Loss of a limb
Injuries may not appear for hours or even days following the charter bus accident. That is why you should always seek medical attention as soon as possible after the crash, even if you do not experience any pain, discomfort, or other symptoms. Your failure to document your injuries immediately may jeopardize your future bus accident claim against the liable party.
Unfortunately, some passengers may also die in charter bus accidents. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than 250 people die in bus accidents each year. Buses are large vehicles that are more difficult to maneuver than passenger vehicles, which make them more prone to collisions.
What Is Your Legal Right as an Injured Passenger of a Charter Bus?
Bus passengers deserve compensation when they suffer injuries in accidents, while surviving family members have a right to obtain compensation by filing a wrongful death lawsuit against liable parties when their loved ones die in charter bus accidents.
However, determining liability for the accident can be difficult because there may be multiple at-fault parties. Common causes of charter bus accidents include driver errors, negligent hiring, inadequate maintenance of the bus, defective parts, and many others. Each case is unique, which is why injured passengers might want to consider speaking with an attorney to investigate their accident and establish fault.
When you hire a charter bus, you expect the bus operator to exercise due care and take all reasonable precautions to avoid causing harm to you and other passengers. When accidents occur, victims and their families have a right to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim against liable parties.
Who Can Be Liable for Charter Bus Accidents?
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.
How to Prove the Common Carrier’s Fault for the Accident?
When you are traveling on a charter bus, whether you chartered the bus from a private organization or through a government organization such as a regularly scheduled commuter bus run by a government agency that bus is a common carrier according to the definition of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
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 the cause of a bus accident is 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 in an accident on a charter bus, the potentially liable parties could include:
- The tour company. The tour company that chartered the bus out. The tour company typically contracts with a bus provider and must 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 can both be liable for an accident.
- The bus company. The bus company that owns the charter vehicle must 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.
- The bus driver. Many charter bus accidents are the result of negligence on the part of the bus driver.
- Other drivers. A charter bus accident may occur as a result of negligence on the part of other drivers. Charter buses often share the road with reckless, drunk, drowsy, and distracted drivers, which is why the bus driver is not always responsible for causing the crash.
- Property owners. With tour buses that stop at multiple tourist destinations, the owner of the property where the accident occurs could be a liable party.
- Maintenance or repair shop. Often, bus companies contract maintenance and repair shops to conduct inspection and maintenance of their vehicles. If the shop fails to properly inspect or repair faulty parts, which results in a charter bus accident, the entity may be responsible for its failure to prevent the accident.
- Manufacturer. When a bus has defective parts or a faulty design, accidents are bound to happen. Automobile manufacturers must keep their vehicles safe and free from defects.
Consider contacting a skilled bus accident attorney to help you determine fault and identify potentially liable parties.
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. The 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.
FMCSA regulations require a minimum coverage of:
- $1.5 million for vehicles transporting 15 people or fewer; and
- $5 million for vehicles transporting 16 or more passengers.
Those requirements do not adequately cover an accident involving catastrophic injuries or serious injury to multiple parties. However, insurance requirements are not liability limits. If damages to passengers exceed the insurance minimums, you may still hold the carrier liable for amounts exceeding the federal insurance requirements.
Even given that, local or state regulations or laws can require additional coverage. Those laws also may limit liability to the locally required insurance coverage. Illinois law does not require 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 websites, 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 record. Here, the public can review a bus company 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.
Compensation Available in Charter Bus Accidents
The compensation you deserve after a motor vehicle accident is “compensatory damages.” They include both economic and non-economic damages.
1. Economic Damages
These damages, which are also known as special damages, provide compensation for objectively verifiable monetary losses that your lawyer can prove with receipts and bills.
Economic losses include:
- Past and future medical expenses associated with the treatment, surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, doctor’s appointments, hospital bills, and other medical expenses
- Loss of income from the date of the accident to the date the injured party fully recovers and goes back to work or receives a settlement, whichever occurs sooner.
- Loss of income from the date of the settlement to the estimated date of recovery (if the person can work but cannot earn the same amount as before the injury, they may be responsible for partial lost wages)
- The cost of repairing or replacing damaged property (e.g., if you had a smartphone or laptop with on while riding on a charter bus, you might be entitled to reimbursement for the cost of repairing/replacing it)
- Funeral and burial expenses if your loved one died in a charter bus accident
2. Non-Economic Damages
These damages are more subjective than economic losses because they have a specific dollar amount attached to them. Non-economic damages compensate victims for their emotional trauma and pain caused by the injury.
Non-economic damages are:
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Diminished quality of life
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Estimating non-economic damages can require complicated calculations, which is why you must contact an attorney when negotiating a settlement offer with insurance companies.
Illinois law also allows victims who suffer harm as a result of someone else’s gross negligence, reckless, malicious, wanton, or willful conduct to recover punitive damages (735 ILCS 5/13-202). These damages do not depend on particular losses, but they instead aim to deter future harmful behavior by a liable party.
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 in an accident on a charter bus, you should consult an attorney to learn your rights. Abels & Annes can assist you in protecting your rights when you are in such an accident. Contact us at (312) 924-7575 or through our website.