Although mass transit tends to be quite safe, sometimes accidents occur involving buses. Bringing a claim arising from a bus accident can be complicated by issues such as governmental immunity, determination of fault, and fraud.
Due to the size and weight of the typical bus, low speed accidents often cause little damage to a bus or injury to its passengers but, even at a low speed, the risk of significant damage or injury may be significant for a passenger vehicle that collides with a bus and for its occupants. When a vehicle is hit by a bus at a higher speed, its driver and passengers may suffer very serious injury.
When the impact of a collision is great enough to cause injury to the passengers on a bus, as the passengers are typically unrestrained, there are often multiple injuries. If the bus rolls, goes off the road, or catches on fire, injuries to passengers can be very serious.
Although school bus accidents are rare, at times they do occur.
Many serious injuries associated with school buses occur not while the bus is in motion, but instead occur during passenger boarding and disembarking. For example, accidents may occur when passing motorists disregard the warning signals on the school bus, when children cross the street in an unsafe manner, or when the bus driver loses track of a child and either turns off the signals prematurely or strikes the child with the school bus.
Serious injuries may also occur in collisions that involve school buses, including highway accidents, or where school buses roll or go off of the roadway.
Where a public school bus driver causes an accident, the school board may attempt to claim governmental immunity in relation to the injuries that result.
Modern school buses are designed to incorporate a significant degree of passive restraint into the seat design -- that is, the seats are constructed to try to minimize injury either from children being ejected from their seat or from collision with the seat in front of them. While there has been some debate over the use of seat belts on school buses, the consensus to date is to try to improve the safety through better bus and seat design. Trying to enforce a seat belt rule on a bus full of children or teenagers can be unrealistic for a school bus driver. In many cases, retrofitting buses with seat belts could increase the danger of injury, as the seats may not be adequately secured to the floor to withstand the momentum that would result in an accident if the students wore seat-belts. It is bad enough for kids to be ejected from their seats in an accident, but potentially much worse if the seats come loose from the floor.
Although not truly buses, fifteen passenger vans are used in a similar manner by many church groups, private schools, and similar organizations. As compared to other vehicles, it is widely believed that fifteen passenger vans are unsafe due to a higher chance of rollover in the event of a collision. When a rollover accident occurs, van passengers have a potential product liability claim against the manufacturer of the van, in addition to any claims of negligent driving conduct against a driver who caused the accident.
In larger municipalities, there has historically been a problem with people boarding buses after an accident has occurred, then claiming to have been injured while riding the bus at the time of the accident. Some cities have even staged bus accident scenes, making it appear that a collision had occurred, to catch people who attempt this type of fraud.
Even within the context of a real accident, some bus passengers have attempted to exaggerate their injuries or have tried to attribute a pre-existing condition to the accident. These types of fraud and misrepresentation may make it more difficult for people who actually suffer injury to prove and be properly compensated for their claims.
As buses are often operated by a governmental authority, such as a municipality or a public school, even when the bus driver is at fault the unit of goverment may be an attempt to avoid compensating injured persons on the basis of governmental immunity. As governmental immunity laws vary significantly by state and can be tricky to analyze, it is a good idea to have any governmental immunity issues evaluated by a lawyer in the jurisdiction where the bus accident occurred.