When bus accidents occur there are usually numerous factors leading up to the incident. While a police investigation concentrates on criminal responsibility, a thorough legal investigation will identify all parties at fault. Oftentimes, there may be driver negligence, equipment failure, or safety violations. The McNeely Stephenson firm has a war chest of resources to thoroughly investigate all accident cases.
Causes of Bus Accidents in Indiana
As with all motor vehicle accidents, a number of things can cause or contribute to a bus accident, such as equipment that is inadequately maintained. Some categories of buses are subject to strict federal and state regulations. In Indiana, school buses must be inspected annually. School buses and commercial motor coaches that sell tickets to passengers must keep very detailed safety and inspection information right on board. But private buses, such as those owned and operated by churches, are not subject to the same rules. Tires may blow out, which apparently was the case in a September 2013 church bus crash in Tennessee that killed eight people. Brakes may fail, which was allegedly the cause of the Indianapolis church bus crash in July 2013.
Another area of regulation by the federal government is hours of service (HOS) for drivers of buses which travel across state lines. Designed to keep fatigued drivers off the road, the HOS regulations set specific limits on the amount of time a bus driver can be behind the wheel. Drivers are required to keep detailed log books.
Driver inattention is frequently cited in bus accidents, just as it is in car accidents. Whether the driver’s attention was distracted by a navigation device, cell phone, or unruly students, a bus driver who is not totally focused on the road is a dangerous driver.
Too Many Tragedies…
In recent years, Indiana roads have been the site of a number of tragic bus accidents:
- A Greyhound bus and an SUV were involved in a fiery head-on collision near Angola, Indiana, on June 21, 2009. The accident killed one and injured 11.
- Early on March 12, 2012, an Indianapolis school bus crashed, killing two and injuring 10, two critically.
- In July of 2013, a church bus returning the youth group from camp in Michigan crashed in Indianapolis, just a short distance from their destination. Three people were killed and dozens of others were injured.
- A school bus accident on September 25, 2013, sent eight students to the hospital for evaluation. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries.
The Data on Bus Safety
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration studied buses involved in fatal accidents (BIFA) during the years 1999 through 2005. Five different carrier types were included in the project:
- School — Any public or private school or district, or contracted carrier operating on behalf of the entity, providing transportation for K–12 pupils.
- Transit — An entity providing passenger transportation over fixed, scheduled routes, within primarily urban geographical areas.
- Intercity — A company providing for-hire, long-distance passenger transportation between cities over fixed routes with regular schedules.
- Charter/tour — A company providing transportation on a for-hire basis, usually round-trip service for a tour group or outing. The transportation can be for a specific event or as part of a regular tour.
- Other — All bus operations not included in the previous categories. Includes private companies providing transportation to their own employees, non-governmental organizations (e.g., churches or non-profit groups, non-educational units of government such as departments of corrections), and private individuals.
The BIFA report found that, in total, about 63,000 buses are involved in traffic crashes each year, including 325 with a fatal injury and 14,000 with a non-fatal injury. Of all types of buses, school buses were most often involved in fatal crashes (38.1%); transit bus accidents accounted for 32.5% of fatalities; charter/tour buses, 11.4%; “other,” 11.1%; and intercity only 3.7%.
Clearly, bus transportation is not without risk, regardless of the type of bus you’re on.
Holding Those Responsible Accountable
A number of different parties may be held liable in a bus crash, from the bus driver to the company he or she works for to the manufacturer of faulty equipment. After a bus accident, many law enforcement and investigative agencies are likely to get involved, including the state police and the National Transportation Safety Board. One of their objectives will be to determine the cause of the crash, and this will point to the person or entity which may be held responsible.
A bus accident can forever change the lives of those on board. Whether they are injured or witness the severe injury or death of other passengers, those involved in bus accidents will suffer as a result of someone else’s actions or inactions. Some families will be left without a loved one, perhaps the family breadwinner. Even though there is no way the accident can be undone, there may be legal recourse which can improve the lot of those injured or left to mourn. Through a personal injury lawsuit, people injured in a bus accident may be awarded damages for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost wages and earning capacity, scarring or disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life. Family members of those fatally injured may be compensated through a wrongful death claim.