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Public transportation accidents, including bus and train accidents, can cause serious injuries and major property damage. These accidents involve large vehicles and large numbers of people, and there are fewer safety restraints such as seatbelts and airbags. Therefore, an accident can cause serious trauma to passengers. Public transportation accidents also involve more complex legal settlements than regular car accidents.
This article describes some of important aspects of public transit lawsuits and settlements, including specific information about bus accidents and train accidents. If you have been hurt in a bus or train accident, it is recommended to talk to a personal injury attorney as soon as you can.
Public Transportation and Duty to the Public
Both state and federal laws hold bus and train entities both public and private to a high standard of care for passengers. Strict enforcement of the law as it pertains to bus and train operators is intended to ensure that passengers are kept safe. The duty of care by bus and train companies include:
- Ensure that entries and exits in trains and buses are safe, such as having good lighting and being free of obstructions.
- Providing security as needed to ensure that passengers make it safely to their destination.
- Hiring well trained and qualified drivers and operators that obey all laws that relate to the safe operation of buses and trains
- Performing all regular maintenance and repair work to ensure that the train or bus is safe. Train operators also are required to perform regular track maintenance.
- Monitoring any flaws in train or bus or track design and fixing them as needed.
Bus Accident Injuries
Bus accidents often cause serious injuries that are worse than car accidents. A typical commercial bus is 20 tons in weight and does not have seatbelts. Passengers often can be thrown violently around the cabin. Or, when a bus slams into a car, the much larger vehicle causes devastating injuries to the auto passengers.
Many bus accidents are due to a reckless bus driver who may have been speeding, texting on a cell phone, or even fell asleep. Common bus accident injuries include:
: Broken bones, spinal cord injuries, head trauma, and cuts and bruises are common in commercial bus accidents. Multiple surgeries and long recovery periods may be necessary.
: Emotional injuries cannot be seen, but they can have just as much of an impact on your life as physical ones. Serious bus accidents can cause major emotional trauma. Imagine being trapped in a bus after a crash with bleeding and bruised and possibly dead passengers. People often panic as they exit the bus, and this causes even more emotional pain and suffering.
These types of injuries also can apply to any public transit accident, including train accidents.
Bus Accident Settlement
Entities that own buses, whether they are public or private, normally have higher levels of insurance that provide more comprehensive coverage than standard motor vehicle insurance. Your personal injury attorney will grasp the many laws and requirements in play to ensure that you get the best settlement possible.
The bus company’s policy may provide coverage for each passenger on an individual basis. Or, there may be one pool of money that covers damages for all passengers. This could be a problem if many passengers had serious injuries. A pooled policy may reduce the amount that you can recover. However, it may be possible for a skilled personal injury attorney to work around policy limits; this can happen if the insurance carrier acted in bad faith or made mistakes in the policy documents.
Train Accident Settlement
There are more than 2,500 train accidents each year. Common train accidents include train derailments, crashes into other trains or cars, and pedestrian accidents. Train accidents can be due to negligence in a variety of ways:
- Train conductor error. The operator may be traveling at too high a speed or fail to apply brakes when pulling into a terminal.
- Railway negligence. Neglect of routine maintenance on trains or tracks leads to serious accidents every year.
- Mechanical failure. Brake or track failures are common on trains and railroads.
- Railroad crossing equipment failure. Lights and signals at railroad crossings can fail, which may lead to a car on the tracks.
As with bus passengers, train passengers can suffer serious injuries in an accident. They also do not have seatbelts in most cases. A train accident, such as striking another train or a derailment, can lead to devastating personal injuries. If the operator or rail owner fails to meet a high standard of care as required under law, it is possible that you could be entitled to damages, such as medical expenses, lost income and mental/physical pain and suffering.
Bystanders also can be hurt and killed by trains, particularly at unmarked and unprotected railroad crossings. These crossings have no signals or gates that activate when a train approaches. There are at least 140,000 crossings in the US and 25% of them are unmarked. In these cases, the bystander may be entitled to compensation if the railroad was negligent in any way, or if the train operator was negligent in doing his job.
It is important to consult with a train accident lawyer to ensure that you have the best chance to recover compensation for your injuries.
Special Considerations in a Public Transportation Settlement or Lawsuit
Claims against public transportation entities involve special legal considerations that make them unique in the personal injury legal field. Therefore, an experienced personal injury attorney should be consulted early in the case. This increases the possibility of an acceptable personal injury settlement for your accident injuries.
: Bus and train accidents usually involve vehicles that are owned by the state or local government. For example, the Washington DC Metro is owned by the city government. If you are in an accident on Metro that breaks your arm, the operator of the train and the city government may have protections in terms of personal injury claims in the case of an accident. It typically is very important for your personal injury attorney to identify which entity owns the train or bus involved in your accident claim. This will ensure that you bring the claim or lawsuit against the proper entity. In some cases, it may turn out in a bus accident that the vehicle was privately owned. This means that standard personal injury claim procedures are in play. Your attorney will establish early on whether the owner of the vehicle involved was public or private.
: This refers to the immunity that the government has against a lawsuit. However, in many cases, the government will allow a lawsuit by authorizing a consent to suit or waiver. Instead of denying your right to pursue a claim or lawsuit, the government owner of the bus or train may allow the legal action to proceed. This will depend upon you staying in compliance with the tougher procedural requirements that are associated with a personal injury lawsuit against the state or local government. Note that cities, municipalities and school districts cannot claim sovereign immunity. But this is a contentious issue, and some state laws may still have stricter procedural requirements in place for people filing a claim or lawsuit in a bus or train accident.
Statute of limitations
: A bus or train accident involves numerous deadlines to take legal action. Generally, a statute of limitations law requires you to begin a bus accident or train accident lawsuit within a certain timeframe. If you fail to do so, you may lose your ability to file a lawsuit. Many states have a two-year statute of limitations to file personal injury claims. With a government entity, however, the limit is typically much shorter. It could be a year or only a few months. In Georgia, for instance, it is mandatory to send what is called an ‘ante litem’ notice to the government entity within six months of an injury if you plan to make a claim. The notice must have all the information to make a review of the claim, such as when it happened, injuries sustained, alleged liability claim etc. It is important to talk to a personal injury attorney immediately after a bus or train accident to determine if you have a potential claim and to get the legal paperwork going on time.
Caps on damages
: There could be a damages cap in place so that your final compensation does not go above a certain amount. States often limit the amounts of ‘non-economic damages’ against public entities. These damages would include for pain and suffering, loss of consortium and other injuries that are more subjective in nature. States also may limit or prohibit punitive damage claims against the government entity that owns the train or bus.
Summary of Public Transportation Settlements
Filing a personal injury claim or lawsuit against a public entity is a very complex legal action. It is more difficult to establish liability against a municipal or state entity. It also is imperative to act quickly because of the shorter time constraints to file a lawsuit against a public entity. If you think you have a valid bus or train accident claim, you should consult with an experienced bus or train.