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Tour Bus Accidents and Liability

Chartering a tour bus is an efficient and relatively safe way to transport a large group of people. But bus accidents happen, occasionally leading to lawsuits and insurance claims. Various parties can become potential defendants in a lawsuit for bus accident injuries. Their liability will depend on contractual disclaimers, relationships, and terms.

This article provides an overview of:

  • How liability is determined
  • Which parties may be sued for damages
  • Other issues related to bus accidents

See FindLaw's Travel and Aviation section for additional articles and resources, including:

The Bus as Common Carrier

Buses are considered "common carriers" in the eyes of federal and most state laws. A common carrier is an entity whose business is to transport people or goods for compensation. This designation includes:

  • Tour buses, commercial buses, charter buses
  • Private buses and public school buses (different types of bus liability will apply)
  • Commercial airplanes
  • Cruise ships
  • Taxicabs and certain trucks

Under general person injury law, a bus operator has a duty of care to its bus passengers. The duty of care requires the operator to exercise reasonable care to prevent harm. A common carrier must exercise a very high degree of care and diligence with regard to the safety of its passengers. Most successful lawsuits against common carriers result from negligence or willful acts. As with other negligence claims, courts use the "reasonableness" standard.

Other than road conditions, common causes of motor vehicle accidents come down to how motorists drive. For example, a reasonably careful bus driver is expected to:

  • Stop at a safe place for passengers
  • Obey all traffic laws
  • Not make dangerous maneuvers

When driver negligence (carelessness) leads to injured passengers, they may sue for damages. But what if a drunk driver hits a bus, resulting in brain injuries and property damage? A court probably would not find the tour bus driver negligent, since a reasonably careful operator could not have foreseen the accident.

Who Is Liable for Tour Bus Accidents?

Determining who is liable for a bus accident injury may seem simple at first, but it is not always so clear. There are a host of different entities that could be found liable for a bus accident. It could be the company contracted to provide bus service to a school, the individual driver, or even the school district. Multiple parties could be held liable for contributory negligence if they are at least partially to blame for the accident.

The determination of liability gets even more complicated for injuries sustained on a chartered tour bus. The liable parties involved in a tour bus injury lawsuit potentially include:

  • Tour CompanyWhen a tour company enters into a contract with a bus company, it has a duty to hire a company with a good safety record. When injuries occur on a bus operated by a company cited for substantial safety violations, the tour company could share liability with the owner of the bus. The tour company and bus company might also be the same entity—a tour bus company. Tour companies that own their buses are held to the same level of liability as bus companies.
  • Bus CompanyThe bus company that owns the vehicle must have reasonably safe buses in its fleet. It must only hire properly licensed drivers who meet basic requirements. The company will represent its fitness as a common carrier to other parties in the contract. Even if these criteria are met, a negligent driver exposes the bus company to liability.
  • Bus Manufacturer: Suppose a car accident ensues due to a bus collision and it turns out that the bus had failing brakes and malfunctioning seatbelts. The accident victims discover evidence that the bus manufacturer had a line of defective models. The bus collision injuries were caused by defects in the brakes and the seatbelts. The bus manufacturer may be strictly liable, meaning that they would be responsible regardless of any accompanying negligence.
  • Various Bus Destinations: Tour buses typically stop in several different locations throughout the tour. From Los Angeles, California to the other end of the country, a bus might stop at all sorts of venues. Passengers may be subject to dangerous conditions at each venue location. A tourist who slips on an oil slick and breaks her hip after departing a bus may hold the owner of the venue liable for her injuries.

Can Government Agencies Be Responsible?

Public transportation and public school bus accidents can make the government liable. This is because the government owns and/or operates the buses. For example, there may be a bus accident claim involving a city bus crash. Government bus operators include but aren't necessarily limited to municipalities (cities). If the city bus negligently causes someone's wrongful death, the government will be on the hook.

While city bus accident cases follow the general principles of personal injury law, suing the government is more difficult. Depending on the city, county, and state, a plaintiff will need to follow proper notice procedures. There is also a stricter time limit, known as a statute of limitations, requiring the plaintiff to file quickly. Regular personal injury cases are subject to time limits too, but claims against government entities involve shorter deadlines. A complaint against the government that is untimely or improperly filed will be invalid.

Injured on a Tour Bus? Consider Working With an Attorney

Bus accidents, whether they occur on a chartered tour bus or a yellow school bus, can result in serious injuries. Even worse, bus insurance companies will do everything they can to avoid paying out for medical expenses. Knowing how to begin, affording medical bills, and determining liable parties can be difficult. A bus accident lawyer is a personal injury attorney with experience to help you in these circumstances.

If you or a loved one have a personal injury claim involving buses, you can benefit from a bus accident attorney's legal advice. Contact a local personal injury lawyer to discuss your accident and learn more about how to go about seeking compensation. Before forming a client relationship, many personal injury attorneys even provide free case evaluations.

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