Every day, hundreds of people use buses with the expectation that they will arrive safely at their destination, but unfortunately, bus accidents across the nation yield staggering injury and fatality statistics each year. According to a June 2011 USA Today article, National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) data indicates that passenger-carrying motorcoach accidents that result in fatalities have increased significantly despite a downward trend in highway deaths on the whole. As a major city and metropolitan area, Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania are served by numerous operators and many types of buses from throughout the United States. Bus accidents can occur in an array of types of buses, that can include long-haul, private interstate transportation providers, like “Chinatown buses”, short-range commuter shuttles, and other passenger-carrying motor carriers.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a bus accident, you may be able to file a bus accident liability claim in order to be compensated for your losses. The experienced lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm understand how emotionally, physically, and financially devastating these types of accidents can be and have helped hundreds of clients who may have suffered similar losses to your own. Do not hesitate to call our law offices at (215) 246-9000 in order to begin your free consultation.
In the wake of a bus accident injury, you may be feeling helpless and confused about how to handle your insurance company, whether to sign papers about your case and how to adapt to your post-treatment medical realities. At The Reiff Law Firm, we are sympathetic to the challenges and concerns you may be facing and will listen to you in order to help you formulate your best course of action — not only to get fair remuneration for your injuries but also to get your life back on track.
It is important to keep in mind that insurance adjusters do not necessarily have your best interests at heart. It is important to be cautious with what you say to the insurance company and carefully review any documents before you agree to anything. It is in your best interests to contact an experienced and knowledgeable lawyer to evaluate your options or read any documents that you may be given to read or sign.
How Safe are Buses?
While the safety of a particular bus is a confluence of factors including the bus type, vehicle condition, road conditions, and more, generally, buses are not any safer than cars. A 2012 Journal of Safety Research article, Risk factors associated with bus accident severity in the United States, found that while buses are relatively safe there is nevertheless a significant amount of bus-related accidents. The study did identify several risk factors that can increase the likelihood that a bus accident is severe. These factors include:
- The presence of a younger bus driver who is under the age of 25
- Drivers over the age of 55, but more significantly after age 65
- At very high-speed limits (greater than 65 miles per hour)
- At very low-speed limits (less than 20 miles per hour)
- At intersections
- When the driver is distracted
- When the driver engages in risky driving
While many, if not most, bus operators adhere to the federal safety guidelines, there are some companies that put profits over health and safety. If you have been injured in an accident due to corner-cutting, negligence or other reasons, The Reiff Law Firm may be able to obtain compensation for your severe injuries and other damages, such as loss of wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering.
Buses Carrying Passengers Are Common Carriers Under Pennsylvania State Law
Bus companies such as SEPTA, Megabus, Boltbus, and other private or public passenger-carrying transportation companies are considered common carriers under Pennsylvania state law. 3 66 Pa. C.S. §102 defines the term “common carrier” as:
Any and all persons or corporations holding out, offering, or undertaking, directly or indirectly, service for compensation to the public for the transportation of passengers or property, or both, or any class of passengers or property, and “motor carrier”
Thus a common carrier in Pennsylvania includes companies in the business of providing transportation of people or goods. Common carriers are held to a high, strict standard under Pennsylvania law for many reasons. First, people trust the common carrier to deliver them safely to their destination. Second, a high legal standard for safety in operations has the public policy effect of encouraging safe operations and reducing the number of injuries that could occur. Third, common carriers like bus companies are in the best position to correct defects in their operations including insufficient maintenance of buses and unsafe practices.
The standard to which a common carrier is held is much higher than that of an ordinary driver. In fact, a common carrier can theoretically be held liable for injuries, deaths, and resultant medical and rehabilitation costs when any level of negligence or recklessness is present. That is, even slight amounts of recklessness can give rise to a viable personal injury claim when a bus driver acts in an irresponsible manner.
Bus Company Lawyers Use the Jerk & Jolt Doctrine to Insulate Carriers from Liability
Unfortunately, the way the law has developed in Pennsylvania is such that lawyers for bus companies can use a particular doctrine to defeat even seemingly valid claims against the common carriers. This doctrine is known as the “Jerk and Jolt” doctrine. Under this doctrine, a common carrier operator is exempted from liability for the normal and routine bumps, jolts, and “jerks” the vehicle may experience while traveling on its route. In other words, if a person has particularly brittle bones and suffers a fracture or a broken bone due to a routine bump, the bus company can invoke this defense to defeat liability. Or at least that was how the doctrine was intended to work.
Today, it seems that the “jerk and jolt” doctrine has expanded well beyond its roots and original rationale. In modern cases, the defense has been upheld despite particularly harsh braking by a SEPTA bus driver due to the actions of drivers around the bus. Therefore, injury victims should not expect to face an easy day in court despite the bus company’s status as common carriers. Rather, they will need significant amounts of evidence and a thorough understanding of the law to defeat the defense.
How Can a Bus Accident Personal Injury Victim Overcome the “Jolt and Jerk” Defense?
Most often, whether the defense can be overcome is dependent on the facts and circumstances that surrounded the accident. However, even if you have favorable facts such as a driver who was speeding excessively due to running behind schedule or a driver who operated the bus under the influence of alcohol or drugs, these facts may remain undiscovered and unleveraged unless you or an experienced attorney can take swift action. Working with an experienced bus accident lawyer who understands the difference time can make can often make all the difference in the world. Depending on the circumstances he or she may:
- Work to obtain traffic camera records
- Attempt to obtain video from nearby businesses
- Obtain bus driver toxicology reports after the accident
- Locate and interview witnesses and bystanders
- Prepare witnesses for the attacks and impeachment attempts defense counsel is likely to attempt
- Explain of Pennsylvania statutory and case law
For instance, an experienced bus accident injury lawyer knows that conclusory statements like a “hard stop” or “abrupt braking” are insufficient. Rather, significantly more evidence is necessary to show that the actions were unusual or extraordinary.
What if I’ve Been in a Septa Bus Accident?
If you or someone you love has been injured in any bus accident it is crucial to seek medical attention for your injuries immediately. Early treatment typically improves your recovery prognosis.
SEPTA successfully serves millions of people, over multiple counties surrounding the Philadelphia region, each and every single day, but train, bus, and trolley accidents can happen. If you have been injured in a SEPTA accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, medical care, loss of wages, or other losses.
SEPTA is protected under certain laws, including The Sovereign Immunity Act, that makes filing a liability claim time and case-specific, so you need a lawyer who understands the laws fully and can act efficiently to file your claim. If you have been injured in a SEPTA accident, there are certain limitations that only a skilled attorney will understand. It is important to contact the lawyers at The Reiff Law Firm soon after your accident, in order to help you navigate your case.
Our Philadelphia Bus Accident Attorneys Can Help
Bus accidents are often extremely complex and complicated to understand; this is especially true when multiple factors contribute to causing the accident. Multiple collisions, three or more vehicles involved, manufacturing defects, design defects, negligence, extreme weather, use of alcohol or other drugs, and driver distractions are but a few of the causes that must be considered in every accident.
Once the circumstances surrounding that accident have been uncovered, an experienced attorney can prepare a legal strategy designed to achieve a favorable result. We can engage in settlement discussions, but we are always prepared to take a matter to trial if it is likely to result in a better outcome for our client.
You can trust the Philadelphia bus accident attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm to explain your case options in clear, concise language. We seek to empower our clients by not only fighting for them in the courtroom, but also by tailoring our goals by listening to their needs. If you would like to have a serious discussion about your legal options following a bus accident, call The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.