How to Bring a Bus Accident Injury Claim

Bus accident claims usually are like other motor vehicle accident claims, but if yours involves a publicly-owned bus, watch out for some unique challenges.

By , J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney · University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

When it comes to bus accidents, there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that bus accidents don't happen in nearly the same numbers as, say, passenger car accidents. In 2020, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), buses were involved in 31,161 accidents resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage. Compare that to more than 4.7 million accidents involving passenger cars that resulted in injury, death, or property damage.

The bad news is that buses are unlike passenger cars in important ways. Buses carry lots of people, and most buses don't come equipped with safety restraints as do other passenger vehicles. So when they happen, bus accidents can cause many injuries.

We'll look at what to do after a bus accident, whether you can file a claim for compensation, some of the unique issues in bus accident cases, and more.

Can You File a Bus Injury Lawsuit or Claim and Get Compensation?

Yes, probably so. If you were injured or your property was damaged in a bus accident caused by someone else, chances are you can bring a claim to recover compensation ("damages") for your losses. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Before you bring a claim, you've got some work to do to increase the chances of your claim being successful.

What You Should Do After a Bus Accident

If you were involved in a bus accident, first things first. Check for injuries and call 911 to get medical help for anyone who's hurt. If there are injuries or significant property damage ($1,000 in many states), make sure to ask for police to respond, too.

As soon as you're able, begin gathering evidence for your personal injury or property damage claim. Here's a checklist of things you might need to do, both at the scene and later:

  • exchange contact and insurance information with all drivers who were involved in the accident
  • get the bus driver's employer's information, including address, phone number, and the name of the driver's immediate supervisor
  • record the year, make, model, and license plate information of all involved vehicles
  • take pictures of all vehicles, their damage, and the accident scene
  • get contact information for all witnesses so you (or your lawyer) can get written or recorded statements from them later
  • speak to the responding police officer and find out how to get a copy of the police report
  • contact your insurance company
  • keep a written diary or journal to record how the accident happened, together with your injuries, treatment, and recovery
  • file an accident report with your state department of motor vehicles, if required by law
  • get medical treatment for any injuries you suffered, and
  • order copies of your medical records and bills.

How and Why Bus Accidents Happen

For the most part, bus accidents happen in the same ways, and for the same reasons, as other motor vehicle accidents. Why does this matter? Because in order to for your claim to succeed, you've got to be able to prove who was at fault for the accident.

Let's start with why bus accidents happen, and then we'll have a look at how they happen.

Why Bus Accidents Happen

Most motor vehicle accidents happen because of driver error. A federal study conducted between 2005 and 2007 found that some form of driver error (speeding, inattention, fatigue, and others) accounted for about 94% of all accidents.

Data are more limited for bus accidents specifically, but a couple of small studies showed that when a bus caused a collision, driver error was to blame between 79% and 89% of the time. In addition, buses are specialized vehicles that require particular skills and training to operate, as well as more effort to maintain.

Here are the factors that commonly contribute to bus accidents:

  • driving while distracted
  • drivers who are not adequately trained or properly screened for employment
  • drivers under the influence of intoxicants or other medications
  • buses that are overloaded or improperly loaded, and
  • buses and equipment that are not properly maintained.

How Bus Accidents Happen

Let's return to our NHTSA data. Here's a breakdown of how the 31,161 bus accidents in 2020 happened:

Collision or Event

Number

Collision - Motor Vehicle

25,744

Collision - Fixed Object

1,182

Collision - Nonfixed Object

3,981

Noncollision

254

Total

31,161

More than 80% of all bus collisions are with another motor vehicle. Note that "Nonfixed Object" includes pedestrians and cyclists, as well as inanimate objects.

Bus Accident Injuries and Damages

Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of bus accidents don't result in death. Here are the numbers of bus collisions in 2020 that caused fatalities, personal injuries, and property damages (note that a single accident could result in injuries, fatalities, and property damage):

Event

Fatalities

Personal Injuries

Property Damages

Total

No. of Collisions

156

7,481

23,524

31,161

Typical Bus Accident Injuries

Traffic accidents run the gamut from low-speed fender benders to catastrophic collisions and rollovers. Bus accidents are no exception. It makes sense, then, that bus accident injuries range from serious injuries like broken bones, dislocations, and head and brain trauma to minor soft-tissue sprains, strains, and whiplash-type injuries. (Learn more about common car accident injuries.)

Why Bus Accident Injuries Can Be Serious

Bus accidents involve added safety risks, due to the characteristics of most buses and the practical aspects of bus travel.

First, a bus is taller than a standard passenger vehicle like a car, a pickup truck, or an SUV. This means that the center of gravity is higher in a bus, which increases the risk of tip-over or rollover accidents.

Second, most buses don't feature safety equipment that's standard in other passenger vehicles, like seat belts or airbags. When bus accidents happen, the lack of safety equipment can increase the odds that injuries will happen and that they'll be more severe.

Finally, when it comes to motor vehicle accidents, size matters. When a bus collides with a passenger car or an SUV, occupants of the smaller vehicles often suffer severe injuries.

Unique Issues in Bus Accident Claims

Bringing a personal injury or property damage claim after a bus accident can involve some procedural hurdles you won't encounter in a typical auto accident claim. In particular, be on the lookout for issues if you're making a claim against the driver, owner, or operator of a bus owned or operated by:

  • a city, county, township, or state
  • any other municipality, like an incorporated village, town, or borough
  • any agency or department of a state or local government
  • a school district or a public college or university
  • a public transportation authority, or
  • any other publicly owned corporation or other organization.

Public Buses: You Must File a Notice of Claim

If you intend to bring a claim for an accident involving a publicly-owned or operated bus, state or local law (sometimes both) will typically require you to provide the government owner or operator with written notice of your intent to bring a claim. The notice-of-claim requirement applies to anyone who intends to bring a claim, including:

  • a bus passenger
  • the driver or a passenger of any other motor vehicle (including a motorcycle)
  • a bicyclist
  • a pedestrian, or
  • the owner of property that was damaged.

Specific notice requirements and deadlines (the form, content, and timing of the notice) vary from one government to the next. A special notice deadline might apply if the bus accident caused fatalities.

If you're unsure of when, where, or how to file a notice of claim, it's important that you contact an experienced lawyer for help. Failure to file the notice as required by law probably means you lose your right to bring a claim for compensation or file a lawsuit.

Filing a Notice of Claim With the Government

Typically, the notice of claim or similar filing must include:

  • your name, address, and other contact information
  • a statement that you intend to seek compensation for personal injuries or property damage caused by the negligence of the government entity, including an officer, employee, or agent of the government entity
  • a description of the time, place and circumstances giving rise to the claim (details related to the bus accident, in other words), and
  • a description of your losses (personal injuries, property damage, or both).

If you try to file a lawsuit against the driver, owner, or operator of a government-owned or operated bus without first filing a notice of claim as required by law, the court likely will have no choice but to dismiss your case.

Bus Accident Settlements

If you're hurt or suffer property damage because of an at-fault bus driver, you're probably entitled to compensation for your losses.

What Kinds of Damages Can You Recover?

In most cases, you're entitled to recover two kinds of "compensatory" damages: Special damages (sometimes referred to as "economic" damages) and general damages (sometimes called "noneconomic" damages).

Special Damages

Special damages include things like your:

  • medical bills
  • lost wages
  • car repair costs, and
  • other out-of-pocket losses.

These damages usually are easy to compute and pretty simple to prove.

For instance, you can document past lost wages with a letter from your employer's human resources office. A repair estimate or bill will prove your car repair costs. But if you need to collect damages for future medical expenses or lost wages, things can get more complicated.

General Damages

General damages are intended to make you whole for more intangible injuries like:

These damages are more difficult to measure in dollars. Lawyers and insurance companies often use a formula, based on medical expenses, to compute the value of general damages. (Here's a handy calculator you can use to estimate your damages.)

Will My Bus Accident Claim Settle? Is There an Average Settlement Amount for Bus Accident Injuries?

Probably, assuming fault is pretty clear and you've suffered some kind of harm or property damage. Most accident claims settle without the need for a trial.

That said, there's no such thing as a "typical" or "average" settlement for a bus accident claim. The value of your claim depends on the unique facts of your case—how the accident happened, your injuries and medical treatment, and whether you made a complete recovery or were left with some permanent disability. That someone else's bus accident claim settled for a certain amount tells you little, if anything, about the value of your claim.

There's also no way to predict how quickly your claim might settle. That, too, will depend on several factors, including when your doctor thinks you've reached what's known as "maximum medical improvement."

If your financial circumstances permit, resist the temptation to jump at the insurance company's first offer. It's usually much less than the value of your claim.

An Experienced Bus Accident Lawyer Can Help

If you've been hurt in a bus accident and you're thinking about bringing a personal injury or property damage claim, chances are you've got more questions than answers. And there's a lot at stake. You only get one chance to get compensation for your injuries and damages in what can be a complicated and daunting system, so make it count.

An experienced bus accident lawyer can help. Read about finding the right lawyer.

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