On January 5, 2020, a bus headed for Ohio was traveling through southwestern Pennsylvania. The vehicle hit an embankment on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, causing a pileup. The collision resulted in the deaths of 5 people and injuries to 60 others.
Tragedies such as the recent Pennsylvania bus accident often cause people to wonder about the safety of this mode of transportation. Therefore, we at Rourke & Blumenthal thought we’d provide some information and data on the subject.
What Is Considered a Bus?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the term “bus” is used to describe a motor vehicle that carries 9 or more people, including the driver.
The definition of a bus is broad, and may include any of the following:
- City buses
- Airport shuttles
- Tour buses
- School buses
- And more
Despite the number of buses on the road, bus accidents are fairly uncommon. In fact, 99.9% of passengers arrive safely at their destinations. The statistics may come as a surprise because buses are not equipped with seatbelts, but the high seating position and seat compartmentalization have proven an effective means for providing passenger safety. However, when injuries do occur on buses, they can be uniquely catastrophic.
What Factors Increase the Risk of Injury in a Bus Accident?
Although bus accidents are relatively rare, when one occurs, a higher number of people may suffer more significant injuries.
Below are a few factors that contribute to more severe bus accident injuries:
- Buses are big and heavy: Due to their size and weight, buses have longer starting and stopping distances than smaller vehicles, which increases the risk of accidents. Additionally, buses have a high center of gravity and are more likely to roll over than passenger vehicles, which raises the likelihood of injuries.
- Buses carry a lot of people: Along with the size of buses is the fact that there are more passengers than a car. When a bus is involved in an accident, a higher number of people are in harm's way than a typical automobile collision. That means many more individuals may be injured.
- Many buses have overhead storage: Because bags, luggage, and other personal belongings can be placed above passenger seating, if buses are involved in accidents with sudden changes in velocity or rollovers, overhead items can become injury-causing projectiles.
- Boarding and exiting buses can be dangerous: Often, passengers getting on and off buses must do so street side, making them vulnerable to traffic.
Who’s At Fault After a Bus Accident?
In 2017, 232 buses were involved in fatal crashes. Of those who lost their lives bus accidents, 44 were bus occupants and about 230 were non-bus passengers. The data suggests that these types of collisions are far more dangerous for third-parties than for the bus occupants.
Bus drivers work both privately and publically. The distinction is important because the legal duties owed to the passengers differ based on the driver’s status. A driver who is hired privately to transport a group of passengers owes a duty of care when driving the bus – the same duty of care owed by a typical driver on the road. That is, the driver must do everything a reasonable person would do to make sure the passengers arrive at their destinations uninjured.
A driver who offers rides to the public is considered a common carrier. Common carriers are held to the highest duty of care – far beyond that which a reasonable person would be under the same circumstances.
Bus accidents can be complicated, and fault is often more difficult to determine, as several parties may share responsibility, and many factors can cause or contribute to the accident. In addition, many public buses are owned by municipal governments of the cities in which they operate. Filing claims against government entities can be complicated and often involved laws that do not apply when the accident involves only private insurance.
What Should You Do After a Bus Accident?
If you’re involved in a bus accident, whether as a passenger on the bus or a third-party, follow these steps to help ensure your short- and long-term wellbeing:
- Call 911: If anybody involved in the accident was injured, call for emergency services as soon as possible.
- Follow bus driver instructions: If the driver is able to, they will give instructions on how to proceed after the accident.
- Move your vehicle to a safe place: If your car was hit by a bus and is still operable, pull off the roadway.
- Document the scene: If you have a cell phone or camera with you, photograph the scene. Try to get shots from different viewpoints.
- Give a statement: If you are able to, speak with the responding officer to give an account of the accident from your point of view, and make sure to review it for accuracy. Also, get the officer’s information, including their name and badge number.
- Get medical care: After an accident, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. This is true regardless of whether or not you feel you were harmed. Often, injuries don’t manifest until 24 to 48 hours after the crash.
- Contact an attorney: If you believe you were injured, consider speaking with an attorney before talking to an insurance adjuster or opposing lawyer, as these individuals represent the interests of the other side and may be adverse to your needs.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a bus accident in Columbus, please feel free to contact our team at Rourke & Blumenthal for a free consultation. We can be reached by phone at (614) 321-3212 or online.