With the many thousands of miles of highway and destination places like Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and the Big Bend region, Texas is a haven for bus companies, charters and local city bus transportation. Whether it be a city owned bus, such as a DART bus, or a privately owned charter bus going from El Paso to Longview, you are likely to see a bus on any of our city streets and major highways.
The prevalence of buses on our transit system, along with increased 18-wheeler traffic, combined with a growing population, our highways are crowded. This creates the inevitability of accidents, including bus accidents between other commercial vehicles, and the often devastating accidents between buses and passenger vehicles.
If you have been injured in an accident, you need to know who to contact for help, and what type of claims you may have against the bus driver, the bus company, the local city government, and sometimes even a products manufacturer for a defect that contributed to the accident.
The follwing is a quick rundown of the claims you may have and how the attorneys at Guest and Gray can help you get the most recovery for your injuries.
A. Negligent Bus Operation
Probably the most common cause of a bus accident is negligent operation. This generally means that the bus driver was careless in their driving or reckless in their operation of the vehicle. In this situation the bus driver might have been speeding, or maybe they switched lanes without checking the blind spot. Not only does the bus driver have an obligation to their passengers, but they also have an obligation for the safety of other people on the road. The driver must obey all traffic laws and must drive with caution so as to not hurt other people. If the driver does not fulfill these obligations and you are injured, then the bus driver is responsible for your resulting damages.
B. Governmental Immunity
Typically, if the bus is owned by the city or another municipality they would be protected under governmental immunity; however, the Texas Tort Claims Act allows you to hold the city liable in certain situations. The Texas Tort Claims act states that a city or municipality will be responsible if a negligent employee injured someone while acting within the scope of their employment, and specifically if they injured someone while operating any type of motor vehicle. The Act also states that the government will be responsible for various damages to a person’s property, physical injury caused by the employee’s negligence, and even wrongful death. Therefore, if you were injured or your family member was killed in an accident caused by a negligent school bus driver or a DART bus driver, then the city or state can also be held responsible under the Texas Tort Claims Act. However, the extent to which they are held liable is reduced by the Act. This means that the amount that you can actually recover from the governmental entity is limited.
The city of Dallas and local school districts employ teams of lawyers to defend against claims like these. They know that the Texas Tort Claims Act backwards and forwards, and you need a lawyer who does too. If a local city is responsible for your injuries due to a negligent bus driver, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Guest and Gray Law Firm can help you overcome their claim of sovereign immunity.
C. Negligent Hiring of a Bus Driver
A company may also be found liable if they negligently hired a bus driver who then caused you harm. Despite having numerous ways to research an individual’s past and look up any criminal or even questionable history, many employers fail to do proper research and hire a person who is not fit for the job, such as alcoholism, or a long history of driving accidents. For example, let’s say there is a bus company based in Dallas specializing in bus charters. But what if the bus driver was driving drunk and hit your car as a result?
In this situation the bus company who hired the driver would be liable for the driver’s negligent driving, but they could also be held grossly negligent for hiring a driver who had a history of alcohol abuse.
There are several ways allowed under the rules of evidence that we can use to prove that the driver had a history of alcoholism. It can be proved through witness testimony, medical records, and bank account information. This type of evidence would greatly strengthen your personal injury claim and could potentially increase the amount of damages you may be awarded in court. If we can prove that the employer had actual knowledge of alcohol problem or that they should have known about the driver’s alcohol abuse problem through proper vetting during the hiring process, then we can establish that the employer was negligent in hiring the driver and, therefore, responsible for your injuries.
D. Suing the Bus Company: Respondeat Superior
If we can prove that the driver was acting within the scope of their employment, then we can go after the employer and hold them accountable for the bus driver’s actions. So what does it mean to act within the scope of their employment? It really just means that the driver was performing the job for which they were hired and conforming with the responsibilities of their job. There are several ways to show the bus driver was acting within the “scope of their employment”. For instance, utilizing the bus driver’s employment documents and job description will help to show whether or not the driver was acting within the scope of their employment. This information will come out in discovery. At trial we can introduce the driver’s employment documents to show that the driver was acting in conformity with the job description at the time of the accident.
There are differences when it comes to privately owned and contracted buses, none of the protections applied to public and school buses provided by Texas law apply. This means that there are no limits on what you can recover and no immunity for the bus company, although in either case the process of investigating and litigating the case is largely the same. The main difference is that there is no sovereign immunity or damages caps. Bus companies must also abide by federal regulations. For example, they must have at least $5 million in insurance at all times in order to carry passengers.
E. It Could the Manufacturer’s Fault: Products Liability
Finally, there is a chance that the driver was not actually negligent and did not directly cause the bus accident, or part of the reason the accident occurred was not the cause of the bus driver, but was instead caused by a defective part. A possible cause could be that the brakes malfunctioned. It is also a possibility that you or your child was riding on the bus when it was involved and a feature meant to protect you malfunctioned and that caused the injury.
Although these are two very different features, one prevents an accident, while the other auto part is designed to prevent injury in the event of an accident. Nonetheless, if either one is the cause of your injury, the manufacturer will be liable if the feature was defective.
To prove this to be the case, we will need to inspect the defective product and uncover various types of evidence proving that the feature was constructed improperly. This would involve hiring experts in various fields such as scientists, and engineers to evaluate the product and testify on your behalf that the product malfunctioned and that the fact that it malfunctioned was the proximate cause of your injury. Product liability is not a common factor, but it is common enough that a good attorney will be aware of the possibility and will properly investigate to make sure that all safety parts and products performed to their proper specifications.
Don’t Wait, Call Today!
If you have been injured in a bus accident your damages are probably the result of another person’s negligence. Whether it was directly caused by the negligent actions of the driver or if it is the result of a defective component on the bus, you may have a valid personal injury claim against the liable party.
At Guest and Gray, we can get working on your case immediately and will work hard to get you the recovery that you deserve. Don’t let the insurance company take advantage of you and try to settle with you out of court. That settlement offer is likely not enough to cover all of your losses and medical bills and the insurance company wants to be free from your claims before you hire an attorney. Don’t let them low ball you. We are here to help. Give us a call today!