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Proving Liability in Bus Accident Cases



Although accidents involving buses are less common than other traffic accidents, injuries can be devastating because most buses do not have seat belts and are not required to have them. Also, proving liability in bus accident cases can involve more complex issues than just poor judgment by the driver.

Accident Factors

Some common bus driver errors are caused by:

  • Fatigue
  • Intoxication
  • Poor vehicle maintenance
  • Speeding
  • Distractions
  • Inexperience

Driver Error

Drivers who operate a city bus, charter or over-the-road bus like a Greyhound must obtain a commercial driver’s license. The driver must pass a road test and have undergone a medical examination in the past two years. Once the license is granted, drivers must submit to physical exams every two years. They also have a higher-than-ordinary duty to protect passengers from injury, so even the slightest negligent conduct leading to injury can impose liability.

Inexperience in handling and steering a large vehicle like a bus can be a factor in these accidents. Driver intoxication or impaired driving from drug use is not uncommon, and driver fatigue is also a major factor. A study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration found that most driver fatigue incidents occur at night and that accidents may be exacerbated by the driver’s poor physical condition and weight. Distractions caused by passengers also account for some accidents.

Bus Company Liability

Commercial bus companies and municipalities that operate buses are required to implement drug and alcohol education and testing programs for their drivers and to train drivers in vehicle maintenance. Complete records must be maintained along with adequate insurance coverage.

These entities are responsible for poor bus maintenance such as defective steps or seats that collapse in an accident. Sudden stops and starts that can throw passengers about the interior of the bus are often the result of poor training of drivers.

Using Electronic Recorders & Cameras to Prove Liability

Commercial buses with poor compliance records on hours of service are now carrying electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) that will record the number of hours drivers spend in operation. Since fatigue is a major contributor to bus accidents, the recorder is designed to ensure compliance and to relieve companies of having to maintain volumes of paperwork. This data can be essential to a personal injury lawyer when investigating a serious bus accident to determine if bus driver fatigue contributed to the accident.

Forward-facing cameras are also being installed on buses. These devices can easily provide an accurate depiction of what the driver was observing, or should have been observing, in the moments leading to an accident.

Defective Highway Design

Defective highway design, which is often overlooked as a factor in bus accidents, will be considered by an attorney. Highways are generally built and maintained by local governments, and the roadways must be designed to give motorists time to observe and process information like changes in the road and pedestrians, or to warn of potential hazards. Inadequate signing or road width, drop-offs, obstructions, and potholes can all be contributory factors in many bus accidents.