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Public Transit Accidents: Can You Sue?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

As the use of public transit hits record highs, the chance of buses and trains being involved in an accident also increases. If you've been involved in an accident while riding public transportation -- like the Metrolink crash that injured dozens of commuters in Oxnard, California, today -- you may be wondering if you can get compensation for your injuries.

As it turns out, public transit accidents are treated a little differently from standard fender benders, and those differences can affect your case. Here are a few things that make injury claims involving transit authorities unique:

Common Carrier Considerations

Any entity in the business of transporting goods or people from place to place is considered a "common carrier" in the eyes of the law. This includes the buses, trains, and light rail that constitute public transportation.

Because common carriers are responsible for the safety of their passengers, they are held to a higher standard of care than the average person. Instead of comparing their actions to a reasonable person, common carriers are compared to a "reasonably careful operator."

While you would still need to demonstrate that a bus or train operator (or the transit authority as discussed below) acted negligently in causing the accident, it may be easier to prove negligence if the operator failed to meet this high standard.

Transit Authority Tort Liability

Many state and local governments have "Tort Claims Acts" that set the rules for filing injury claims against the government and government entities such as public transit agencies.

One of these rules generally requires injury victims to file a "notice of claim" within a specified amount of time after the accident has occurred, before they file a lawsuit. Failure to file such notice, and adhere to other legal rules, could mean forfeiting your right to recover for your injuries.

Local rules may also place a cap on the amount of damages you can recover from a government entity. The rules applying to your case will depend on where the accident took place, so you may want to check with your local laws or an experienced attorney to be aware of your jurisdiction's requirements.

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