Unfortunately, bus accidents are a fairly common occurrence in Orange County, and they often involve serious injuries. Because of the difficulty maneuvering such large, heavy vehicles and sometimes because of the inexperience of the driver, bus accidents happen with some frequency. The seating arrangements and lack of seat belts can contribute to severe injuries, or even death, being suffered by bus passengers.
Under California law, generally bus owners and operators must “use the utmost care and diligence for their passenger’s safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for the purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.” Bus companies and public entities operating bus lines are known in the law as “common carriers”. When they engage in the business of transporting the general public they obligate themselves to carry safely those whom they take into their vehicles, and owe both a duty of utmost care and the vigilance of a very cautious person towards their passengers. These duties and responsibilities are imposed by law. Consequently, bus companies are responsible for any, even the slightest, negligence and are required to do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under all the circumstances.
Moreover, if a bus operator voluntarily accepts an ill or disabled person as a passenger and is aware of the passenger’s condition, the operator must exercise as much care as is reasonably necessary to ensure the safety of their passenger, in view of his mental and physical limitations. Under California statutes, “individuals with disabilities shall be entitled to full and equal access, as other members of the general public, to accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of all common carriers, modes of transportation, places of public accommodation, and other places to which the general public is invited.” “Full and equal access” is defined as access that complies with the regulations developed under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 or under state statutes, if the State imposes a higher standard.
When there is a violation of the rules above and an accident results, the injured passengers (or their surviving family members) have the right to be compensated for their injuries and damages.
Even when an emergency situation arises, through no fault of the driver, the bus operator’s failure to safely deal with that emergency may give rise to liability. For example, where a bus traveling at freeway speeds encounters an object in the roadway causing a tire to blow out, the bus driver’s failure to maneuver the vehicle to a safe stop is negligence. In that situation the driver has an obligation to brake and pull the vehicle safely out of the travel lanes. If the driver instead continues to depress the accelerator, in an effort to reach the next off ramp, and causes the bus to strike a retaining wall or some other stationary object, the injuries to the unrestrained passengers will be the responsibility of the bus company. The duties and responsibilities owed to passengers aboard a bus equally apply to those even attempting to board the bus. By way of example, a nearly 50-year-old woman living in the greater Los Angeles area used the bus system (MetroLine) for her daily travel to and from work. After she finished her shift as a hospital receptionist, she walked to the bus stop located just a short distance from her place of employment. As she attempted to board the bus, the bus driver suddenly closed the door, knocking the victim to the ground and pulling her into harm’s way. The would-be bus passenger ended up being crushed by the rear wheels, resulting in “degloving” of her skin and significant soft tissue loss, as well as broken bones in her legs and ankles.
In spite of witnesses who said the accident did not or could not have happened as described (some claiming the woman ran for the bus, slipped and fell underneath), the case settled for $1,000,000.00.
Every bus accident case is unique and the potential causes of harm almost endless. An experienced trial attorney can help you find your way through the facts and the law to reach a fair result.