Many California residents rely on buses for everyday transportation. These passengers trust bus drivers to operate these large vehicles with the utmost care and deliver them to their destinations safely. In fact, bus drivers have a professional duty to follow the rules of the road and always adhere to traffic signs and signals. Unfortunately, buses are just as vulnerable to motor vehicle accidents as all other vehicles. In addition, the size of most buses means that accidents involving these vehicles are typically far more damaging than accidents involving standard passenger vehicles. Worse, if a bus is carrying many passengers, it is likely that some or all of them will suffer injuries in a bus accident.

If you or a loved one recently experienced a bus accident in California, it is vital to understand your rights when it comes to collecting compensation for your damages. If another driver caused an injury with the bus you were riding, the process follows a similar framework to any other personal injury claim. However, the process can become far more complicated if you were riding public transportation owned and operated by a government agency. Additionally, liability may be unclear at first, and it may be difficult for you to accurately assess the full extent of your damages. For these reasons, it is crucial to secure legal counsel as soon as possible after any bus accident.

Why Should I Hire a Lawyer After a Bus Accident?

Some people who suffer personal injuries believe their situations are so straightforward that they do not need legal counsel to secure compensation for their losses. However, the reality is that you stand to lose valuable compensation if you do not secure legal counsel. An attorney can provide you with several important advantages if you intend to seek recovery for your losses after a bus accident.

Attempting to handle this process alone is an unwise decision. Not only will you need to navigate the civil court procedures while managing your recovery, but you also run the risk of overlooking available channels of compensation and settling for much less than you legally deserve. Ultimately, hiring an attorney offers the best chance of not only succeeding with a personal injury claim for a bus accident, but also maximizing your recovery.

A trustworthy and experienced bus accident lawyer can help their client accurately assess the full scope of their claimable damages. They can navigate the administrative requirements of filing a personal injury claim and provide valuable resources to support their client’s case that would otherwise remain inaccessible. Proving liability for a bus accident can be incredibly difficult in some situations, and your attorney can appoint an accident reconstruction expert and consult with engineers to support your case.

What Is a Common Carrier?

A “common carrier” is any business entity that offers transportation as a paid service to the public. Common carriers are subject to additional standards, as they provide transportation as a paid service. Common carriers are legally responsible for any damages to the goods and passengers they transport when an accident occurs due to the negligence of the common carrier or one of its employees. However, it is important to remember that if you experience a bus accident, the party responsible for causing the accident may not be the bus driver themselves. It is also possible for multiple parties to bear liability for the incident.

Employees of common carriers have a duty of care that extends beyond the typical duty of care regular motorists experience while operating their vehicles. A common carrier employee has a duty to exercise the utmost care and diligence in performing their job duties and must demonstrate a reasonable degree of skill while driving. A common carrier employee—and, by extension, their employer—can potentially absorb liability for a bus accident when the employee fails to uphold this duty of care in any way.

Determining Liability for a Bus Accident

So, what happens when a bus gets into an accident? The plaintiff’s attorney must determine who caused the accident, how they caused it, and calculate the associated damages. One of the most difficult aspects of any bus accident claim is determining liability for the incident. Depending on how the accident occurred, one or more parties could be liable for damages to bus passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians involved in the accident. A bus accident can easily cause tremendous damages to many people at once and determining liability for the incident will be a crucial priority for every victim.

The courts may assign liability to a few parties:

  • If an independent driver caused an accident with the bus, that driver is liable for any and all damages resulting from the incident. It is quite possible in this situation that the at-fault driver will face liability for civil claims from multiple plaintiffs.
  • If the bus driver caused the accident, things become more complicated when it comes to assigning liability for the victims’ damages. If the bus was owned and operated by a private company, the company should have insurance coverage that takes effect once one of their employees causes an accident. However, there is no guarantee that this coverage will be enough to fully compensate all victims of the accident.
  • If the bus driver caused the accident and they are a government employee, the path to recovery is not nearly as straightforward as it would be with a private entity. Taking legal action against a government-operated transportation service is a complicated process, and California has a specialized set of legal statutes in place for such incidents.

Understanding the California Tort Claims Act

The California Tort Claims Act (CTCA) exists to provide a legal vehicle for recovery for those who are injured by the government or by the actions of government employees carrying out their duties. If a bus driver employed by the state of California caused your bus accident, you would need to file your claim for damages under the provisions of the CTCA.

This Act requires that your claim pertains to at least one of four possible causes:

  • A negligent act committed by a government employee, such as a bus driver working for a California-operated common carrier.
  • A negligent act committed by an independent contractor working for the government at the time their negligent act occurred.
  • Premises liability related to any dangerous condition on state property. If the government failed to maintain a government-owned property in any way that results in injury to a member of the public, the government agency responsible for the location where the accident occurred is liable for the victim’s damages.
  • Damages suffered due to a government agency’s failure to execute their legally defined duties.

A bus accident caused by a state-employed driver would meet this prerequisite, so the next step is to formally send your claim to the appropriate agency, citing the CTCA. This claim must include your personal information and contact details as well as a general description of the incident in question and the name of the government employee you believe to be responsible for your damages. If you are claiming less than $10,000 in damages, you must include a general outline of your current and anticipated damages resulting from the incident. Do not include a specific dollar amount if you intend to claim more than $10,000. If you are claiming between $10,000 and $25,000, your case qualifies as a “limited civil case.”

The statute of limitations, or time limit for filing a claim under the CTCA, is six months from the date the incident occurred. If the government agency does not respond within 45 days, your claim is rejected, and you would need to petition the court for permission to file a civil suit. If the claim is rejected because the agency failed to respond within 45 days, you have two years to file your court petition. Otherwise, you have six months to petition the court for permission to file a personal injury suit. If the court approves your petition, you have only 30 days to file your civil suit.

It is also possible for the government agency to accept liability and offer you a compromise. It is important to note that you are unlikely to secure as much compensation from a government entity as you could from a lawsuit against a private entity, such as a private bus company or an individual driver. The government agency may also choose to request additional information about your claim, and you must provide them with the required details to continue pursuing your claim.

Comparative Negligence in California Injury Claims

Regardless of the defendant or defendants you cite in your civil claim, it is vital to understand California’s negligence law. California upholds a pure comparative negligence law, meaning a plaintiff is not barred from recovery if they are found to be partially at fault for causing cited damages in a civil claim. Some states enforce contributory negligence laws that completely negate a plaintiff’s ability to recover if they are even slightly at fault for causing claimed damages. Many other states uphold modified comparative negligence laws that bar plaintiff recovery over 50% fault. However, there is no such limit under California’s pure comparative negligence law.

If your case results in comparative negligence, the judge will assign you a fault percentage based on your degree of responsibility for causing your claimed damages. You will lose a percentage of your case award equal to this fault percentage. For example, if you claim $200,000 in damages in a bus accident claim and the court finds you 30% at fault, you will lose 30% of your case award. This means losing $60,000 and only receiving $140,000 instead of the $200,000 you originally claimed to reflect your fault for causing the incident.

Your attorney can help you determine whether there is any risk of absorbing liability for comparative negligence. If you were a bus passenger injured in an accident that someone else caused, it is extremely unlikely you would absorb any comparative negligence for the incident. In these cases, comparative negligence usually only includes situations where you were actively interfering with the bus driver performing their duties or somehow otherwise contributed to causing the accident.

Potential Injuries and Other Damages From Bus Accidents

Any motor vehicle accident can potentially cause devastating injuries, including bone fractures, internal organ damage, traumatic brain injury, damage to the spinal cord, facial injuries, and much more. Bus accidents are particularly damaging since these incidents often result in serious injuries to more than one victim.

If you were injured in a bus accident, you have the right to claim compensation for any and all medical expenses you incur. This includes both immediate medical expenses such as hospital bills and anticipated future medical costs if you suffered a severe injury. For example, if your bus accident resulted in a traumatic brain injury, you would likely require emergency medical care and long-term ongoing treatment depending on the effects of the injury.

Your injuries may also prevent you from working for an extended period. You can claim lost income from your recovery period in your civil suit, and you also could claim lost future earnings if your accident leaves you completely unable to work in the future. Your attorney can coordinate expert witness testimony from an economic expert or financial advisor who can accurately calculate how much you would have earned for the rest of your working years had your injury not occurred.

California law also allows personal injury plaintiffs to recover noneconomic damages for physical pain, psychological trauma, and mental suffering resulting from a personal injury. A bus accident can be a traumatic experience that causes painful injuries. A skilled personal injury attorney can help you determine an appropriate figure when it comes to claiming pain and suffering damages in your lawsuit.

How Do Bus Accidents Happen?

Bus accidents happen for many of the same reasons as other motor vehicle accidents. The biggest difference between a bus accident and another accident involving standard passenger vehicles is the severity of the damages involved. Some of the most common causes of bus accidents in California and throughout the United States include:

  • Distracted driving. Driving while distracted continues to be the leading cause of all motor vehicle accidents in the country. All drivers must pay close attention to the road when operating their motor vehicles, and failure to do so can easily result in severe accidents. Cell phone use, eating while driving, “rubbernecking,” or even conversation with a passenger can be distracting enough to cause a serious accident.
  • Driving under the influence (DUI). Driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not only illegal in every state but also incredibly dangerous. Intoxicated drivers have diminished reaction time and impaired judgment, and they are also more likely than sober drivers to speed and commit moving violations.
  • Speeding. Drivers who operate their vehicles at excessive speeds can easily cause devastating accidents. All drivers, including bus drivers, must adhere to posted speed limits at all times to minimize this risk.
  • Moving violations. Traffic signals and road signs exist to help drivers anticipate the actions of nearby drivers. Running a red light or failing to stop for a stop sign are some of the most common moving violations that cause accidents, including bus accidents.
  • Bus driver inexperience. All bus companies must ensure their drivers complete adequate training to handle their vehicles safely. If an inexperienced driver causes an accident, their employer is likely to absorb liability for any resulting damages.
  • Aggressive driving. Unfortunately, some drivers may become frustrated when in traffic behind a bus that makes frequent stops. This can prompt some drivers to participate in aggressive driving while maneuvering around a bus in front of them. This can not only cause a bus accident but can also cause accidents with nearby vehicles or even pedestrians.

These are just a few of the ways bus accidents can happen in California. If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries due to the negligent actions of another driver, whether that other driver was operating your bus or another vehicle, it is vital to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

What to Do After a Bus Accident

If you are involved in a bus accident, whether you were a passenger on the bus or driving your own vehicle when the accident occurred, you must report the incident to the police immediately. Since most bus accidents involve multiple passengers and other drivers, it is highly likely that more than one person will contact the police after the accident. Check yourself for injuries and do what you can to help others hurt in the accident. If you believe you are severely injured, wait for paramedics to arrive and do not move unless you feel able to do so; moving while injured can make your injury worse.

Once the police arrive, answer their questions until they allow you to leave. If you were operating your vehicle when the bus accident occurred, do not say anything the police may interpret as an admission of fault for the accident. It is unlikely that the police will believe the bus passengers are to blame, so they will ask each passenger for their contact information and a brief explanation of how the accident occurred. This enables the police to compile a police report for the incident and determine who is at fault.

If you are hurt, seek medical treatment as soon as you are released from the scene. Severe injuries will prompt paramedic response and they will take you to the hospital directly. Even if you believe you only suffered minor cuts and bruises, see a doctor as soon as possible, because you may have injuries that are not yet noticeable due to adrenaline dulling your pain sensations. It is common for people to walk away from motor vehicle accidents seemingly unscathed and then feel unable to get out of bed the next day once the adrenaline surge subsides. Your doctor can provide you with a report of your injuries and their diagnoses for use in your eventual claim.

Once you receive medical treatment for your injuries and obtain a copy of the police report for the accident, speak with an experienced attorney. Regardless of whether you believe the bus driver, bus company, or a third party is to blame for your accident, seeking legal counsel will increase your chances of securing a satisfactory recovery from your damages. Prompt legal action helps to ensure the reliability of physical evidence and eyewitness testimony. Your attorney can help you gather the evidence you will need to file your personal injury claim against the party responsible for the accident.

Finding Your Legal Team

Experiencing a bus accident can be a traumatic experience, and it is possible that the effects of your accident could follow you for many years to come. If you want the best chance of maximizing your recovery after an accident, you need an experienced personal injury attorney who has successfully represented bus accident claims in the past. The right attorney will make a significant difference in the outcome of your case and help you secure the compensation you need to recover from your injuries.

The attorneys at Easton & Easton believe in client-focused legal representation. We do not use impersonal, “one-size-fits-all” legal tactics in handling our clients’ cases. We know that every client is unique, and their experiences can have unpredictable effects on their lives. Our goal in every case we accept is to maximize our client’s recovery by holding negligent parties accountable for their actions. If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries in a bus accident, we can help. Even if you are unsure who is to blame for the incident or the full scope of your claimable damages, we can provide clarity while we help you approach the situation with greater confidence. Contact Easton & Easton today to learn more about how our firm can assist in your recovery after a bus accident in California.