Traveling by bus is common in the greater state of California. Bus travel is under public transportation and is categorized under common carrier laws. As a common carrier, the laws that govern buses are given by both the State and Federal government. Common carriers are held in higher regard compared to other motorists and are expected to be more cautious in their duty to provide transport to their passengers. Buses also cause accidents or are involved in various accidents that can leave those involved with significant injuries and damages. Under the common carrier law in California, a victim of a bus crash is allowed to seek compensation for the damages and injuries sustained. Hiring a personal injury lawyer is essential in pursuing your compensation. At San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we are experienced in assisting our clients in seeking compensation due to them.
Understanding Common Carriers
Any company in the business of transporting people or goods are categorized under the common carrier law. Typically, any entity with a license to carry goods and people within the state or across states can be categorized under the common carrier law in California. However, various factors must be considered before a company is termed a common carrier. These factors are:
- The entity or company was solely established to transport goods or people from one place to the next
- The entity identified itself publicly as a company involved in transportation
- The service of transporting goods or people from one location to the next is at a cost.
Common carriers in California include trains, cruise ships, buses, planes, and taxes. Additionally, ski lifts, elevators, amusement parks, and escalators are also considered under the common carrier law in California.
The standard of care for common carriers is higher than that of other vehicles in California. This means that, if a passenger suffers any injuries in a common carrier, it becomes easier to show negligence and have them take responsibility.
Common Carrier Law in California
The duty of care law is clear in California as regards common carriers. According to the civil code 2100 of California, common carriers are expected to use the highest care in their transport business. This is important in ensuring their carriage is safe and must provide all the necessities to ensure this. This means that they need to provide safety for their passengers as well as other motorists. If this rule is not followed, passengers can get hurt in the long run. For this reason, common carrier law in California expects buses to:
- Ensure passengers are treated with dignity and civility
- Ensure the vehicle is safe and well maintained for its duties
- Provide a significant level of attention to passengers
- Advise passengers on the dangers of their transportation
- Ensure passengers have a proper place to sit and care for those with special needs
- To ensure they do not drive recklessly
- To provide passengers with protection from danger even that posed by fellow passengers
- They must ensure their employees are screened thoroughly and well trained
There are many causes of accidents in common carriers. Common causes include fatigued drivers, poorly maintained buses, negligence of the drivers, and mechanical failure. To prevent the buses from causing accidents, common carriers are expected to terminate the services of drivers that do not carry out their duties well. The transport companies are also mandated to ensure their buses are well maintained, are subjected to periodic repairs, and all the equipment is kept well.
When a common carrier is involved in an accident that leads to passenger injuries, the various parties involved are held accountable. The duty of care begins immediately when a person boards the bus, and the bus accepts the person as a passenger. When a person is a passenger, they put themselves under the control of the transport company. This means that the driver of the bus owes the passenger duty of care.
How to Prove Bus Negligence Following an Accident
When bus accidents happen, the primary issue around the case is the damages and injuries suffered as well as the negligence involved. Because a bus is a common carrier, it is expected to provide a high degree of care and safety to its passengers. This is regardless of the distance of the trip. The duties are controlled by the government or state, and all vehicles categorized as common carriers are expected to follow them. If a common carrier fails to follow the law, this is considered negligence. This is the main cause of bus crashes in California.
To start a claim over a driver successfully or other parties like the bus company or owners, one must prove negligence happened. This is done by proving various elements. These are:
- The defendant in the case owed the victim a duty of care
- The defendant breached the duty of care such as reckless driving or speedy driving
- The injuries to the plaintiff were as a result of the violation of duty
- The negligence of the defendant was the cause of injuries to the plaintiff
Usually, a common carrier’s negligence can be shown by providing evidence that the law was violated. A driver failing to act in a reasonable manner, such as that of using due diligence as required of a good driver, is also an act of negligence. The law expects the driver to exercise care, just like an ordinary person would be given similar circumstances to prevent an accident from happening.
Bus accidents can be severe, resulting in significant injuries that take prolonged periods of healing. In some cases, an accident victim may suffer disabilities, suffer from lost income, and incur rehabilitation costs and medical bills. In more severe cases, an accident can result in a fatality on the spot or as a result of the injuries sustained. This, in itself, may call for significant medical expenses, burial, and funeral expenses. When this happens, the victim will require compensation in order to afford the bills and sustain their life following the accident.
This is only possible after the negligent entity is identified by putting together evidence that proves they were negligent. This makes it essential to hire the services of a personal injury lawyer who is skilled in evaluating the evidence available and every element of the crash. An experienced attorney has the necessary resource that enables them to recreate the accident scene, establish the reason for the crash and the responsible entities for the accident. With all this, a lawyer can build a solid case that will result in the best compensation possible.
Importance of Proof in Common Carrier Accidents
In trying to get compensation in a common carrier case, the plaintiff must show sufficient evidence to prove the negligence of the common carrier and establish their responsibility in an accident. Based on the strict liability theory, the plaintiff must show clearly how the defendant breached their duty to them. Some of the evidence may include:
- Testimony from an expert witness – by the use of a witness, a victim can show how the injuries they sustained were a result of the negligence of the carrier. On the other hand, the carrier in their defense can also use an expert to show their actions were within reason
- Testimony from an eye witness – another passenger on the bus can be a witness to the negligent behavior of the driver
- Negligence per se – a bus driver or company can intentionally overlook the regulations of the law that may result in injuries to the passengers or other parties
- Pictures – taking a photo of dangerous areas within the bus such as dangerous stairs, lack of safety belts among others can be excellent evidence in showing the carrier’s failure in providing a safe environment for its passengers
- Inspection records – some bus owners and bus companies neglect to maintain their vehicles regularly to maximize their profits. Providing these records in court can help show their negligence and help your case on compensation.
Accidents involving School Buses
A lot of school buses lack safety belts, and the few that have, do not make it compulsory for children to use them. Because of this, a lot of injuries result when an accident happens. Children without seat belts are exposed to significant danger of suffering substantial injuries and, in some cases, death.
In the majority of cases, the drivers of the buses are held accountable for these accidents because they owe the children duty of care in the highest standard. However, because the state employs most of these drivers, the theory of sovereign immunity may protect them from lawsuits.
This fact makes it more complicated when suing for compensation for damages or injuries suffered. When suing for damages, in this case, a plaintiff will have to petition the government for compensation as it is the driver’s employer. This will require you to adhere to the deadlines for instituting a claim according to the deadlines. Although the statutory requirement for private entities is two years, a claim against the government must be filed within a stricter deadline of six months. Should one fail to keep up with the deadline, they may lose their right to seek compensation.
Who is Liable when Bus Accidents Occur?
It is challenging to determine the party responsible following a bus accident due to the many parties involved. Knowing the various causes of accidents on buses can help narrow down the parties responsible. Some common causes of accidents involving buses include:
- Fatigue – bus drivers are often on the road for many hours navigating through various challenges of the road. This can result in them being tired and can easily fall asleep as they drive. Should an incident happen that requires them to be fully alert on the road, they may not respond on time and end up crashing into other vehicles or hitting pedestrians.
- Intoxicated driver – many accidents in California are as a result of an impaired driver. When a bus driver is high on drugs or alcohol, their ability to control the bus is impaired. This means that they can cause accidents easily.
- Negligence – this is another common cause of road accidents. Being negligent of other motorists or traffic rules can result in crashes with other vehicles
- Distracted driving – sometimes a driver can get distracted by other things happening outside or by a phone call. Doing something else other than driving can cause a driver to get distracted and cause an accident.
- Lack of proper training – some bus companies want to save money by employing inexperienced drivers. Lack of experience in driving the bus can result in a driver being unable to control the bus and end up crashing.
- Inadequate servicing and maintenance – there are regulations on how a commercial vehicle should be maintained. Some bus companies or bus owners want to push the bus to go for as long as possible before taking it for service. This can result in some parts wearing out and affecting the performance of the bus. This can eventually lead to an accident. For instance, when the bus is not regularly maintained, its braking system can fail while the bus is on the road. The driver will not be able to control the bus, and it will crash.
- Unpleasant weather conditions and dangerous road conditions are also responsible for bus accidents. Adverse weather conditions can interfere with the visibility of the driver and can result in an accident. Hazardous road conditions such as potholes or broken cement, among others, can also lead to bus accidents.
With the various causes of bus accidents above, it is clear that many entities can be held accountable when an accident happens. The government, bus owner, bus company, school board, maintenance company, and parts manufacturers are some of these entities. Based on the common carrier law in California, a bus is accountable for the injuries sustained by its passengers when:
- It does not ensure safe steps
- Begins to drive away before passenger boards safely or exits safely from the bus
- Begins driving before a person is safely on their seat
- The passenger is climbing on the bus; they close the door on them
- They try to allow a passenger to get on the bus when the area is unsafe.
Based on the common carrier law, a bus ends its duty of care once a passenger is off the bus safely and is not exposed to any risks from the bus. The law also states the liability of a bus is not only to the passengers on the bus, but accidents do happen at the station. This means that the company must ensure its stations are well maintained. The driver of the bus is also responsible for ensuring they stop at a safe location to allow passengers to disembark and to board the bus. Additionally, they must ensure that the bus stops and start the bus timely to prevent passengers from getting injured.
Common Carrier Laws in California – Exceptions
There are, however, exceptions to this law that allows drivers, bus owners, and bus companies to be excused from their responsibility when an accident happens. Some exceptions are in cases where the crash was as a result of a natural cause such as poor weather conditions. The law understands that no person is able to control acts of nature. The law also exempts liability should the bus be attacked by robbers, pirates, carjacked, or the negligence of a passenger. Such situations are entrenched in the statute and are out of the regulations as covered under the common carrier laws.
Duty of Care to Other Motorists
Under the common carrier law in California, a bus is expected to practice high standards on duty of care to its passengers as well as other parties. This may include fellow motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. The same regulations on duty of care that are practiced by other motorists also apply to buses. A bus driver should practice diligence when pedestrians are around. This may involve slowing the speed down and concentrating on driving to avoid hitting passengers.
Investigating Bus Accidents
When bus accidents happen that result in significant injuries, a thorough investigation is essential. An attorney will have investigators visit the accident scene soon after the accident. This is critical because skid marks fade very fast, and any other evidence of the accident as well can disappear. Because different vehicles pass there, tampering with evidence is also likely.
However, when an expert investigator arrives at the scene, they can collect evidence that will also assist the police in writing a more accurate report. Mechanical, biomedical engineers, photogrammetry experts, and human factor experts are also other experts that can be called to the scene. Additionally, the victim of the accident is also expected to provide medical records for their treatment from the doctors. These records also indicate how significant the injuries sustained are and the cost of their treatment.
Some of the Common Bus Injuries
Compared to other accidents, bus accidents are more complex. Accidents that involve cars or trucks are less complicated because the vehicles have more safety features than found in buses. Some of the features include airbags, bucket seats, seat belts, cramp zones, and rollover protection. Unfortunately, these features are not found in most buses leading to more serious injuries when a crash occurs.
Following an accident, passengers are usually thrown about the bus and hit against other passengers, seats, windows, floor, and bars. Because of this, passengers can suffer serious injuries such as:
- Head injuries – some head injuries can be traumatic making the passenger need prolonged treatment
- Neck and back injuries – some severe injuries of the neck and back affect the spine. This can result in a passenger becoming paralyzed. This will mean they lose the use of their limbs and become dependent on others for their lives.
- Broken bones – these are also common in bus accidents and may result in the passenger requiring surgery
- Internal injuries – some people suffering from these injuries may assume they have not been injured until later. This is why a victim should seek a thorough medical examination after the accident and never admit you are ok before being examined.
- Lost limb – sometimes in the hitting against the bus or other passengers can be so severe that a passenger loses their limb.
These are serious injuries that can be very costly to treat and rehabilitate. Seeking compensation under the common carrier law in California is essential to ensure you do not hurt yourself economically even more.
Seeking Compensation when your Loved One Dies Under the Common Carriers Law in California
As earlier stated, bus accidents can be severe, leading to wrongful deaths. The deceased person is gone and cannot seek compensation. However, their family is permitted to seek compensation under the common carrier law. With a personal injury attorney, their family can file a suit on wrongful death against the bus driver, bus company, government, or school board or district.
Not everyone under this law is allowed to file for compensation. This law only allows the spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, children, or the person that will receive the property of the deceased. These damages in wrongful death claims compensate the surviving family for the loss of their loved one. The family will receive both non-economic and economic damages.
Some of the compensation will include:
- Burial and Funeral costs – all the fees and costs associated with burying their loved one is catered for under the common carrier laws with regard to compensation
- Financial losses – this is more so when the deceased was a grown-up and contributing financially with the upkeep of the family. In seeking compensation, the family is allowed to bring evidence of how much the deceased earned, and a tabulation of the potential earnings calculated.
- Lost Consortium – the surviving family can sue to get compensation for the companionship they lose, the support and love the loved one would have extended to them.
Find a Lawyer Near Me
Common carrier law in California holds common carriers or commercial vehicles in high regard. The law stipulates that these vehicles must show more care to their passengers, failure to which they are severely punished. Injuries in a bus can be severe, and the law allows for the victims or their families to institute a lawsuit for compensation against the persons responsible. A personal injury lawyer is essential when one is seeking compensation from a common carrier bus. At San Diego Personal Injury Law Firm, we have extensive experience in pursuing compensation from common carriers. Call us at 619-478-4059, and allow us to defend you.