When an accident involving public transportation occurs, the risk of multiple injuries is always present. Like any passenger in a vehicle, patrons of public transportation are placing a large amount of faith in their driver to operate the vehicle carefully and in compliance with all applicable laws. When an accident occurs and results in injury to the passengers, the at-fault party—whether the bus driver, the other driver or both—will be liable for injuries suffered. Below is a brief overview of liability arising from accidents involving buses.
Injuries Caused By Other Drivers
By using public roads in Kansas, every driver is agreeing to act in a reasonable and safe manner. This means that drivers must act as a reasonable person would under the circumstances presented. A driver breaches this obligation by acting carelessly, such as when the driver speeds, follows too closely, or attempts to pass without checking the car’s blind spot. In these instances, any other driver, pedestrian, or passenger injured as a result of the driver’s carelessness will have a claim for negligence against that driver. Negligence provides compensation for physical injuries, lost income, and pain and suffering experienced. When a driver strikes a bus, all passengers on the bus that are injured have valid claims for these types of damages against that driver.
A second way in which liability can attach is through violations of laws by other drivers. In these claims, the violated law provides a narrow means of establishing a breach of duty to the injured plaintiff. To fully accomplish this, the law that is violated must have been enacted to protect other drivers and passengers from injuries suffered from an accident. When these elements are all present, a valid claim for negligence per se can be established.
Injuries Caused By Bus Driver
A bus driver owes other drivers a duty of reasonable care when driving on public roads. If a bus driver fails to operate the bus in a reasonable manner, any injuries that occur will be the responsibility of the driver. This is true for other drivers and pedestrians, both of which may bring claims against the bus driver (and almost always the bus company as well). For passengers of the bus, however, a different standard is applied.
Unlike other drivers on public roads, common carriers, such as buses, owe a heightened duty of care to their passengers. Buses must operate with the highest standard of care for their passengers that is practicable with the operation of their business. This means that a bus can be held liable for injuries to passengers even when their actions are only slightly substandard, rather than careless. The reason for imposing this heightened standard is that passengers of buses are entrusting the driver with their safety; it is outside of the control of the passenger how carefully the bus is operated because they are not in the driver’s seat. To balance this danger and lack of control, the law requires the upmost care in driving these passengers.
Responsibility For Injuries To Passengers
Determining who is fully responsible for injuries suffered by a passenger in a bus accident is tricky business. The bus driver, other driver, or combination of the two may be responsible for the injuries suffered by the passenger. In fact, the passenger his- or herself may even be partially at fault, though this would be somewhat unusual. Instances may include the passenger drinking hot coffee on the bus when the bus driver must make brake quickly and suddenly, resulting in the coffee spilling and burning the passenger. More common, however, is a division of fault between the two drivers. For a passenger, which party is responsible is generally of little concern. In most instances, the real fight will be between the two drivers. However, unless the passenger proves the elements of negligence, the two other sides have nothing to fight over.
One additional consideration complicating the selection of the proper defendant: the employer of the bus driver. Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employee creates vicarious liability for her employer when she acts negligently within the course and scope of her employment. Though this language may seem grandiose, it is actually a relatively straightforward concept, particularly in the context of bus drivers. An employer can only act through its employees, so the law will impose liability for wrongful acts done by those employees. For a bus driver, an accident is almost always in the “course and scope of employment.” This is because the driver is employed to do just that—to drive routes and transport passenger. This is extremely helpful to an injured individual because it opens the employer and its assets to compensate the injured plaintiff.
Injuries occurring to passengers can present difficult cases and apportionment of liability. There are obligations running in several directions and determining which party or parties bears ultimately responsibility for the injuries is a fact-intensive and time-consuming task. Investigation is a key aspect of a bus accident case. This means that contacting an attorney as soon as such an accident occurs is imperative. Doing so makes sure that full compensation is available to redress injuries suffered.