Every bus passenger case is unique, but the common themes we see in these accident cases include:
- Driver fatigue
- Driver distraction with texting or passengers.
These accidents shouldn’t happen.
Unfortunately, what we find is the bus driver is not always truthful about what actually happened in the accident. This is where our knowledge and experience in these cases comes into play.
What we need to do right away is the following:
- Locate the electronic control module for the bus referred to as the black box and get the information that is on it;
- Locate any specialized GPS equipment and get the information that is on it; and
- Get a copy of the driver’s log book, which will show how many hours he or she was on the road.
These are the kinds of materials that we need to get as soon as possible after the bus accident so that we can prove what happened.
Legal Rights of Bus Passengers
When a passenger is hurt in a crash, he or she the right to file a lawsuit against one or more of the following:
- The owner;
- The company that provided maintenance;
- A manufacturer;
- A construction company, county, or municipality if the accident happened in a highway construction zone or due to a road hazard; and/or
- The driver and owner of another vehicle at least partially at fault for the crash.
“Compensatory damages” include amounts for any of the following (past and future amounts where appropriate):
- Medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Lost future earnings;
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Loss of quality of life;
- Funeral expenses;
- Loss of care and comfort; and
- Other damages.
In some cases, there may be a punitive damages claim:
Punitive Damages: Damages awarded to punish a party who committed a wrongful act or was grossly negligent. This amount is above and beyond money awarded to compensate for losses such as medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages (“compensatory damages”).
If the collision is fatal, the family may have a wrongful death claim. These are statutory claims, meaning specific state laws give the family the right to sue those responsible and get justice.
Violation of Minnesota Law
Under Minnesota law, bus drivers are held to a higher degree of care than other drivers. This means he or she needs to be extra cautious when driving. The legislature did this because one mistake could result in dozens of people getting injured or killed.
The owner of the bus (private company, school district, church) also has legal responsibilities. The vehicle must be exceptionally maintained and kept in good working order at all times. In addition, care must be taken to hire qualified drivers, train them well, and fire those who do not drive safely.
Minnesota is one of the states that has put some restrictions on cell phone use while driving. Minnesota Statutes, Section 169.443, subdivision 9, was amended to read that a driver may not operate a bus while communicating over, or otherwise operating a cellular phone for personal reasons when the vehicle is in motion. This restriction applies whether the style of the cell phone is hand held or hands free. This also includes texting.