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. 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, which can include long-haul, private interstate transportation providers, like “Chinatown buses”, short-range commuter shuttles, and other passenger-carrying motor carriers.
In addition to national carriers, Philadelphians rely on the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to navigate the city and adjacent suburbs. SEPTA manages and runs buses, subways, and regional rail lines throughout Philadelphia and the Greater Philadelphia area.
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) 709-6940 in order to begin your free consultation.
The Statute of Limitations for Bus Accident Lawsuits
Under Pennsylvania law, an injured person generally has two years to file a claim in civil court. If you were a passenger on a commercial bus line, this deadline could apply to your case. However, if the accident occurred out of state, that state’s law could govern your claim. Our skilled bus accident attorneys will examine the circumstances surrounding your accident to ensure that your claim complies with any applicable deadline.
The Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act further complicates claims against SEPTA. If you are involved in an accident involving SEPTA, you are required to provide written notice to SEPTA of your potential claim. The written notice must include the date, location, and time of the accident, along with the injured individual’s name. Other information might be required depending on what occurred.
This notice must be sent to SEPTA within six months of the accident. It is critical to protect your rights and contact our Philadelphia bus accident attorneys immediately following an accident. Even though you have two years to file your claim in court, without the written notice, your case will likely be dismissed.
Proving Negligence in a Bus Accident Case in Philadelphia
When an injury is caused by the negligent conduct of a bus driver, bus owner, or another party, accident victims have the right to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. There are many causes of preventable bus accidents in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.
Driving Under the Influence of Drugs or Alcohol
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs impairs a bus driver’s ability to control their vehicle, including responding to dangerous situations. Every bus driver is required to hold a commercial driver’s license. A commercial license holds drivers to a more rigorous standard regarding their blood alcohol level. Bus drivers are subjected to random drug and alcohol screenings and the legal limit is half of that for other motorists. When a bus driver gets behind the wheel while drunk or high, they are endangering themselves, their passengers, and other motorists on the road.
Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of all motor vehicle accidents. Bus drivers are no exception. Federal law prevents bus drivers from using a cell phone unless it is a hands-free device. Still, some drivers ignore this regulation. However, bus drivers face other distractions that are related to their employment. For example, a driver’s attention could be drawn by the conduct of a passenger. It is also common for a bus driver to eat at the wheel, especially if they are in the middle of a long trip.
Commercial bus drivers often work long hours, resulting in drowsiness. Other drivers might not take the time to get the sleep they require and start their shift already tired. Driving a bus takes a significant level of concentration and, if a driver is feeling the effects of fatigue, they are liable to make a costly error.
Bus drivers make the same mistakes and poor decisions other motorists make. If a bus driver is behind schedule, they might drive at an excessive speed. Buses are much harder to control when traveling at high speeds. Furthermore, the force of a collision while exceeding the speed limit could result in catastrophic injuries.
In other cases, a bus driver could switch lanes without checking their rearview mirrors or confirming their blind spots were free of traffic. When a bus makes an erratic maneuver, passengers could be thrown from their seats.
Other Negligent Drivers
In some cases, the bus driver is not a fault for an accident. When another motorist improperly changes lanes or fails to yield the right of way to a bus, a collision could occur. Depending on the circumstances, liability could be shared between another motorist and the bus driver.
Bus owners have an obligation to inspect their vehicles and perform regular maintenance to ensure they are roadworthy. If a poorly maintained bus experiences a malfunction or systems breakdown, the driver could lose control and cause a devastating accident.
Poor Training or Hiring Practices
Bus companies and municipalities have a responsibility to hire qualified drivers and ensure that their drivers are professionally trained. If a bus driver with a poor driving record is hired, the company could be held accountable if the driver causes an accident.
Filing a Lawsuit Against SEPTA for a Bus Accident in Philadelphia
SEPTA buses run throughout Philadelphia. While you could file a claim against SEPTA if you were injured in an accident, there are limitations. A SEPTA driver could only be held liable for any damages if they were operating their vehicle negligently. Some examples of negligent conduct including colliding with another vehicle, hitting a fixed object, striking a pedestrian, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, falling asleep, or ignoring other traffic rules or regulations.
Additionally, there are limits on SEPTA’s liability. Under Pennsylvania’s Tort Claims Act, SEPTA is protected by sovereign immunity in many cases. To hold SEPTA liable for your damages, the action must meet one of the exceptions under the law. For example, neither SEPTA nor the driver could be held liable if the bus is not in operation. Typically, “not in operation” means the vehicle is either stopped or parked.
Lawsuits against SEPTA are highly dependent on the facts of the case. It is advisable to have our experienced Philadelphia bus accident lawyers investigating your claim and advocating for your rights.
Crashes Involving “Party Buses” in Philadelphia
People hire a party bus for a variety of occasions. Whether it is for a prom, graduation, a bachelor party, a bachelorette party, or a wedding people generally rent a bus of this type – and the driver’s services — to have a good night out while being safe and responsible. In light of the intense public service messaging push discouraging drinking and driving and the harsh penalties for DUI, the usage of party buses can only be expected to increase. However, not all businesses that supply the party bus and driver operate with the same level of care when providing their party bus services. The failure to do so can result in severe injuries or even the death of the party bus occupants.
Party Bus Occupants Can Fall from Front Doors or Rear Emergency Door onto the Roadway
Unfortunately hiring a party bus does not necessarily guarantee an incident-free evening. In a number of scenarios well-meaning and responsible individuals who hired a party bus to provide transportation to and from their celebratory destination nevertheless suffered severe injury or wrongful death. Some of the scenarios where catastrophic party bus injuries have occurred include:
- Fall through front bus doors – If the front doors of the party bus are defective, unsafe or of insufficient strength a vehicle occupant can tumble through the doors and into traffic or other hazards. In one incident in September 2013, a 24 year old Los Angeles-area man fell through the front doors of a party bus to his death. The bus involved in the accident was under an out of service order that was ignored by the operator.
- Insufficient supervision of riders – If the party bus operator fails to account for all members of the party or otherwise fails to take note of his pay customers, injury can occur. Perhaps the most common reason for a lack of supervision injury is when the bus strikes or runs over a passenger who is attempting to board at the last moment as it pulls out.
- Fall from rear emergency door – A defective or improperly secured rear emergency door can also lead to fatal injuries. In a May 2013 incident in Kansas City a bachelorette party attendee fell out of the party bus’ rear emergency exit while the vehicle was traveling on the highway. She was hit by 3 vehicles and was, tragically, pronounced dead at the scene.
- Insufficient bus lighting – Insufficient overheard or track lighting can increase the likelihood of fall injuries for bus occupants. When alcohol is a known and foreseeable risk factor, special care should be taken to protect those who have entrusted the party bus company with their health and safety.
The foregoing provide only a few of the more common scenarios for the occurrence of severe party bus injuries or deaths. Unfortunately tragic situations can occur in a number of ways.
Party Buses May be Regulated at the Federal Level
Passenger carrying motor carriers are regulated by the federal government when the gross vehicle weight of the party bus or van exceeds 10,000 pounds and the vehicle is used in interstate commerce. Most, if not all companies engaged in the small scale for-profit transportation of passengers will find themselves regulated at some level. The level of regulation is dependent upon the form of compensation the party bus company receives. Companies that receive direct compensation for their transportation services are regulated more closely than those receiving indirect compensation. In general, the difference between direct and indirect compensation is that direct compensation includes payments made directly from passenger to the company for transportation services only. Indirect compensation includes situations where the transportation services are merely party of a travel package that provides other benefits.
Companies receiving direct compensation must adhere to regulations including:
- 49 CFR 387 setting forth the minimum levels of insurance necessary.
- 49 CFR 395 setting forth maximum driving times for a commercial driver.
- 49 CFR 385 setting forth safety assurance and fitness procedures
- 49 CFR 391 setting forth medical exam requirements for a commercial driver
- 49 CFR 390 setting forth mandatory accident record keeping procedures.
Companies receiving indirect compensation, generally, fall under less stringent regulatory standards. However, they must still file a motor carrier identification report, keep and accident log, comply with all driver restrictions regarding cell phone use or texting, carry vehicle USDOT identification and maintain an accident register. At both levels of regulation the company must also adhere to out of service orders and other safety orders issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Contact Our Philadelphia Bus Accident Attorneys for a Free Consultation
No two bus accident injury claims are the same. Depending on the potential defendant and the crash location, an accident victim could be looking at several legal hurdles. The attorneys and staff at the Reiff Law Firm have the expertise and resources to handle the most challenging bus accident claims. Timing is vital, especially if you were hurt in a crash involving SEPTA. Do not hesitate to call our law offices at (215) 709-6940.