Many Boston-area residents rely on buses for their daily commute, to take their children to school, or to visit friends and family. Even if you’re not a regular bus rider, you probably see them every day as a pedestrian, cyclist, or driver. While buses can be a welcome alternative to costly flights or long waits in traffic jams, they still carry a risk to passengers and the drivers sharing the road. If you or someone you love suffered injuries in a bus crash, knowing who could be held responsible for medical costs and lost income is essential.
What Victims Need to Know After a Bus Accident in Massachusetts
The impact of a bus crash is similar to that of a small or medium-sized truck. The larger the bus, the less able it is to stop suddenly or swerve to avoid an accident. The severity of the injuries victims suffer in bus crashes can lead to lifelong injuries and ongoing medical costs, so it’s vital that victims collect compensation from the negligent operator.
While fatalities are rare in bus crashes, injuries are common for both passengers and nearby road users in collisions involving:
- Transit buses. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) oversees the city buses, shuttles, and commuter buses throughout the Boston metropolitan area. Regional transit authorities manage government-operated commuter and sightseeing buses in outlying areas.
- Charter buses. Private transportation carriers like Greyhound provide long-distance buses for intercity or interstate travel. Charter buses can also be rented out by sports teams, organizations, or large groups of people traveling together.
- School buses. School buses are designed to provide maximum safety to their young passengers, including cushioned seats and extra rollover protection. Although Massachusetts law doesn’t require seat belts on school buses, it does require drivers to stop and wait for buses to pick up and drop off passengers.
- Passenger vans. These vehicles hold 15 or fewer passengers and are often used for private organizations such as churches, assistance for seniors or disabled individuals, day care, and other groups.
Driver Error and Other Factors That Cause Bus Crashes
- Improper training. School bus drivers in Massachusetts are required to hold a commercial driver’s license (CDL) with a Passenger (P) endorsement and a School Bus (S) endorsement and also need a school bus driver certificate. Drivers operating motor buses within Massachusetts must be appropriately certified by the Department of Public Utilities (DPU) and have completed a commercial driver's license (CDL) road test.
- Driver error. Bus drivers need enough experience to handle a larger vehicle—this includes checking all of the bus’s blind spots and signaling before making lane changes. They also must remain awake and alert. However, tight schedules and understaffing can lead to fatigue or exhaustion, slowing a driver’s reaction times.
- Driver impairment. Due to their increased responsibility to protect passengers, bus drivers face severe penalties for drunk driving. Bus drivers who are found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .04% or higher can face civil and criminal charges for driving while intoxicated, and they may lose their CDL.
- Failed maintenance. Both state and federal laws require commercial carriers to perform routine maintenance checks to keep buses in safe working order, and failure to follow procedures can cause accidents.
Who’s Liable for a Bus Collision in Massachusetts?
While there are many different parties who could share blame for the accident, victims should understand Massachusetts’ modified comparative negligence standard in injury cases. Victims can recover for their injuries even if they’re partially to blame for a crash, but only if they’re less than 51% at fault. If they share 50% or less of the blame, their damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault.
Possible liable parties in a bus collision include:
- The bus driver. If the driver wasn’t properly licensed, was driving impaired or distracted, or otherwise committed a negligent act, they may be sued directly for the costs of the crash.
- The bus line operator. The company or municipality that operates the bus must screen its drivers, maintain its vehicles, and meet a high standard of care regarding passengers. Operators who failed in their duties would likely be liable for injuries.
- Bus and auto parts manufacturers. The company that designed, sold, or assembled the bus could be partly liable for an accident under Massachusetts product liability laws. It takes a thorough investigation to determine whether the bus or its components (such as brakes, lights, or tires) failed to operate effectively and contributed to the crash.
- Company mechanics. Bus companies often contract the maintenance of their fleet to other providers. If a maintenance provider failed to make adequate repairs, remove an unsafe bus from service, or maintain a bus in a way that made a collision more likely, the maintenance company could be liable.
- Road maintenance providers. New England weather can take a toll on streets and highways, causing potholes, constant construction, snow and ice accumulation, and downed trees or signs. If road conditions affect a driver’s visibility or maneuverability, the municipalities or companies responsible for clearing and maintaining the highway could be at fault.
- Other road users. If another driver on the road caused the collision, that person could be added as a defendant in your claim for compensation.
Let Our Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Explain Your Options
Bus accident victims only have a limited time to pursue an accident claim. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations is three years from the date of the accident—and in claims against the government, the timeline could be even shorter. For this reason, you should contact the injury attorneys at Mahaney & Pappas, LLP as soon as possible to protect your right to compensation. Please contact us online, or call 508-879-3500 to schedule a free case evaluation.