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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Let's return to our NHTSA data. Here's a breakdown of how the 31,161 bus accidents in 2020 happened:
Collision or Event
Collision - Motor Vehicle
Collision - Fixed Object
Collision - Nonfixed Object
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.
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):
No. of Collisions
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.)
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.
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:
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:
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.
Typically, the notice of claim or similar filing must include:
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.
If you're hurt or suffer property damage because of an at-fault bus driver, you're probably entitled to compensation for your losses.
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 include things like your:
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 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.)
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.
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.