Several serious accidents involving charter buses have occurred this year, bringing concerns about charter bus safety violations into the national spotlight. In September 2017, a deadly collision between an MTA bus and privately-owned charter bus killed three people and injured at least 16 others in Queens, NY. In May, just months earlier, another devastating accident on I-95 in Maryland left 26 injured – most of them children – when a charter bus rolled onto its side. These accidents are only two cases in a string of serious yet avoidable crashes, leading concerned parents, commuters, and budget travelers to wonder: who is legally responsible when a charter bus accident causes passengers to be injured or killed? Philadelphia charter bus injury lawyers discuss the subject of accident liability.
Who is Liable When a Tour, Budget, or Charter Bus Accident Occurs?
In contrast to public transit, such as Philadelphia’s SEPTA-operated city buses, charter bus services are rented by individuals, businesses, schools, or other organizations to transport groups of passengers. For example, a company, church group, or volunteer group might charter a motorcoach to carry students or group members to a competition, convention, dance, or fair.
When a charter bus accident or tour bus accident occurs, liability is impacted by “common carrier” laws, which exist at both state and federal levels. While exact definition wording varies slightly from state to state, a common carrier can be broadly described as a business or public service whose principal function is transporting passengers or cargo. With some exceptions pertaining to “transportation network companies,” such as Lyft and Uber, this definition covers most types of paid transportation services, including taxis, cruise ships, passenger airlines, school buses, and – critically for charter bus accident victims – charter, budget, and tour bus companies.
Common carrier laws are relevant to injury victims in that they hold bus companies and their employees to an above-average standard of care. That means charter bus drivers are held to stricter safety standards than other drivers with regard to exercising caution and avoiding auto accidents. If a common carrier acts with negligence, or the failure to exercise due care, the carrier may be liable for any injuries which occur as a result. As such, the victim should look to a Philadelphia bus accident attorney for assistance preparing a claim.
There are multiple parties which could potentially be held liable for a charter bus crash, depending on how and why the accident happened. In many instances, more than one person contributes to a preventable crash. Examples of parties that could be liable for a charter bus accident include:
- The bus driver. Like other types of vehicular accidents, bus accidents are frequently caused by driver error. According to a statistical analysis by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (which can be viewed in full by navigating to “People, Table 34” in the 2015 edition of FMCSA’s Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts report), the top five driver-related factors in fatal accidents were speeding, driver impairment (including fatigue and intoxication), failure to yield, driver distraction or inattention, and failure to stay in the proper lane.
- The bus company. In addition to the bus driver him- or herself, the bus driver’s employer may also share liability for the accident, particularly if the company was aware or had cause to be aware that the driver had a prior record of safety violations or DUI convictions. Other examples of issues that may give rise to liability include failing to train employees properly, or even pressuring drivers to violate safety regulations, such as shift limits.
- Maintenance workers and/or inspectors. Even a skilled driver can be dangerously hampered by defective or faulty equipment. Bus companies are responsible for maintaining their fleets and complying with inspection requirements. Bus companies, including individual employees responsible for performing maintenance work, may be liable for maintenance-related accidents and injuries, such as accidents caused by faulty brakes, or injuries that occur due to defective passenger seatbelts.
- Third parties beyond the bus company and its employees. Third parties can also cause or contribute to deadly charter bus accidents. For example, if a drunk or sleeping driver forces a bus driver to swerve, the intoxicated driver may be liable for the resulting accident. Road design defects, road construction defects, and missing or defective traffic signals can also give rise to liability among third parties.
Philadelphia Charter Bus Accident Lawyers Representing Injured Passengers
The causes of bus accidents are seldom clear-cut. In many instances, more than one person or company shares part of the responsibility for causing an avoidable accident. If you or someone you love was hurt in a charter bus accident, or if your car was hit by a charter bus, an experienced personal injury attorney can help determine who may have been at fault for causing the crash, and work aggressively to hold the liable parties accountable.
At the law offices of The Reiff Law Firm, our award-winning Philadelphia personal injury lawyers have been representing auto accident victims for over 34 years, recovering hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. If you were recently injured in a charter bus accident, or if you lost a loved one in a fatal crash, our Philadelphia wrongful death attorneys are available to provide guidance and support. For a free legal consultation, contact our law offices at (215) 246-9000.