Bus accidents are common in California due to a large number of motor coaches and the volume of traffic. A bus driver or any other driver owes a duty of care to other road users, including pedestrians, passengers, and other drivers. If you or your loved one is injured in a bus accident, you can seek compensation for the damages suffered. The Orange County Personal Injury Attorney assists victims of bus accidents in seeking the compensation they deserve.

Overview of Bus Accidents

In Orange County and California at large, most people use public transportation, the most common being commercial buses. School going children use school buses to commute to and from school. Most bus accidents involve commercial as well as school buses. Statistics reveal that around 23.5 million children across the U.S use school buses to commute to school. Statistics from the Department of Health show that every year, approximately 17,000 children go to the hospital due to injuries sustained from school bus accidents.  Studies reveal that 24% of injuries involving school buses occur when children are boarding or alighting from buses. Majority of children injured in school bus accidents, 43% are between the ages of 11 to 14 years.  Small children between the ages of 9-12 years sustain the worst injuries in case of a school bus accident.  In case of a crash involving a school bus, more than 50% of children sustain head injuries. 

Tour bus accidents are also prevalent in California. Many tour buses operate across California to the neighboring states. People also use tour buses to visit tourist attractions across California.  Most of the time, tour bus drivers have to adhere to very tight schedules and often drive for very long distances without resting. This affects the effectiveness of the tour bus drivers. Due to fatigue, tour bus drivers may not be alert or attentive while driving, and this is a leading cause of bus accidents.

In case of a tour bus accident, the tour bus company may be liable for several reasons. First, the tour bus company may be responsible for negligent hiring. Negligent hiring entails employing a driver who is not well trained and experienced. The tour bus company may also be liable for failing to train and supervise the driver correctly. To evade liability, the tour bus company has to carefully review the driver's qualifications and record at the time of hiring. 

According to California law, common carriers have to uphold the highest safety standards on the road. Common carriers include buses that transport people and goods at a cost. California law requires carrier of persons to exercise utmost care and diligence and the driver to possess a reasonable degree of skill.  A tour bus company may violate the duties of common carriers if it fails to inspect vehicles for safety issues or adequately repair the buses. 

 If you suffer injuries in a public bus accident, you may file a lawsuit against the government. Public buses are owned by the government, and in case of an accident, the government is liable.  When filing a lawsuit against the government, you have to follow different procedures than when filing a lawsuit against private bus companies.

For many types of lawsuits, state governments have a claim of sovereign immunity. This immunity may make it impossible to file a claim against the government. In California, however, the state waived sovereign immunity for certain lawsuits involving employee negligence. Therefore, if you suffer injuries due to the negligence of a public bus driver, you can file a lawsuit against the state or any other state agency that operates the bus company.

Statute of Limitations

To get compensation for injuries suffered in a bus accident, you have to file a claim within a set period. This is following the applicable statute of limitations. For most personal injury claims in California, the applicable statute of limitations is two years. If you fail to file a personal injury lawsuit within two years, you may not get compensation for injuries suffered in the bus accident. 

A different statute of limitations applies if you are filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit against the government. For a lawsuit against the government, you have to make a claim within six months after the accident. If you do not make the lawsuit within six months, you may not be in a position to recover the damages.

What Do You Have to Prove in a Bus Injury Lawsuit?

In order to succeed in your claim after suffering injuries in a bus accident, you have to rely on the theory of negligence.  A person or party is guilty of negligence for acting in a negligent manner and causing harm to another person. The law requires the negligent party or person to pay damages to the victim. If you are involved in a bus accident, you have to prove several elements of a personal injury claim.

You have to prove that the bus driver owed you a duty of care. This is not hard to prove because every driver owes a duty of care to other road users, including passengers, other drivers, and pedestrians. You also have to prove that the bus driver breached his/her duty of care by acting in a negligent manner. You also have to prove that the failure of the bus driver to exercise a duty of care caused the accident. To get compensation, you must have suffered harm or injuries due to the accident caused by the negligence of the bus driver. 

According to California Civil Code Sect. 2100, bus drivers have a higher duty of care to their passengers than regular vehicle drivers.  This means that even if the bus driver commits the slightest mistake or exhibits the slightest level of negligence, he may be liable for breaching the duty of care.  A bus driver owes his passengers the utmost duty of care but owes other drivers a reasonable duty of care. 

Potential Defendants in a Bus Accident

The liable defendant in a bus accident depends on the cause of the accident and the type of bus accident.  The potential defendants in a bus accident may include bus driver, tour Bus Company, school bus operator, bus driver supervisor, or charter bus operator. If the bus accident was caused by defective vehicle parts, the bus manufacturer or the bus part manufacturer may be liable. The bus maintenance company might be liable if the accident occurred due to a poorly maintained bus. If the accident involves a public bus affiliated to the government, the liable party may be a city, county, or state agency in charge of the public bus.

In some instances, there may be more than one defendant in a bus accident. If there are several defendants, the defendants will share the compensation payments.  You would have to prove that the defendants owed you a duty of care, and they breached the duty of care. The defendant's breach of their duty of care should have caused your damages or losses. 

A bus driver or the bus company may be liable for driving for too many hours without resting. According to California Vehicle Code 21702, it is a misdemeanor offense for a bus driver to operate a bus for too many hours. Both the bus driver and the bus company may be liable for violating this law under California's negligence per se laws.

You are partly to Blame for Bus Accident

Under California's "comparative fault" law, you can still recover some damages even when you are partly to blame for the bus accident.  The other negligent party will cover a portion of your damages even if you are partly to blame for the accident.  The court will determine which percentage of your fault or negligence contributed to the injuries. If you are partially responsible for your damages, the compensation you receive will be less your percentage of fault.

If the defendant is 100% at fault, you will receive 100% compensation. If you are 30% at fault, you will receive 70% compensation.  For the court to consider comparative negligence, the defendant has to claim that your negligence also contributed to the damages.  The defendant has to prove that you acted negligently. The defendant also has to prove that your negligence was a substantial cause of the injuries you suffered.  

Common Injuries in a Bus Accident

Bus accidents often have more severe injuries than accidents involving other types of vehicles. Bus passengers are regularly exposed to numerous risks because buses lack safety features possessed by other vehicles. Bus passengers do not enjoy safety features like airbags, safety belts, rollover protection, and bucket seats.  In most cases, bus passengers sit facing each other, facing sideways or towards the rear. It is common to find bus passengers standing on a crowded bus. Therefore, in the case of a bus accident, there are some unique yet severe injuries that occur.

When a bus accident occurs, bus passengers may be tossed inside the bus.  The bus passengers may hit the seats, other bus passengers, or the floor. When a bus accident occurs, passengers may sustain diverse injuries, including head injuries, neck injuries, back injuries, and internal injuries. At the time, a fire may occur, especially in a severe bus accident. In this case, passengers and other victims may sustain burn injuries.

Compensation in a Bus Accident Lawsuit

No amount of money or any other reward can be enough to compensate you for the injuries you suffer in a bus accident. However, you may receive compensatory damages to help cover your economic and non-economic damages. 

Economic damages refer to damages whose dollar value is easy to assess. Non-economic damages refer to damages whose dollar value is not easy to assess. Non-economic damages do not necessarily have a fixed cost. Economic losses include:

Medical Costs

This is a consolidation of all medical costs you incur in seeking treatment for damages suffered in the accident.  When you are determining medical costs, you should not just focus on current medical costs but on the future medical costs as well. For instance, if you suffer broken bones, you may need many months of physical therapy. You are likely to continue with treatment long after settling the personal injury lawsuit.  Medical costs are inclusive of emergency room treatment, in-home care, medication and medical supplies, and physiotherapy charges.

Lost Wages and Future Earnings

After filing a personal injury lawsuit, you may receive compensation for lost wages and future earnings.  Lost wages refer to the income or earnings you lose prior to the effective date of a settlement agreement or prior to commencement of a lawsuit.  On the other hand, lost earning capacity refers to the loss of your ability to earn money in the future. It is the loss of the money you would have made in the future if you had not suffered injuries in a bus accident. 

Lost wages are easy to determine because the losses have already occurred. However, lost earning capacity may be hard to determine because the loss has not yet taken place.  You may get lost earning compensation if your injuries have not fully resolved by the date of case settlement by the court.  You may receive lost earning capacity benefits if you incur serious injuries like brain injury and other permanent injuries whose effects may continue in the future. 

When determining the value of lost earning capacity, the court considers what you would have earned if you had not suffered injuries. The court also considers what you will earn given your injuries. The difference between money earned under both scenarios is the applicable lost earning capacity.  Lost earning capacity may include salary, commissions, overtime pay, bonuses, profit sharing contributions, and any other lost benefits or perks, including free meals and car allowances. 

Several factors will affect the calculation of your lost earning capacity. The factors include your age, whether you expect to return to your regular job, and how long your injuries are likely to last. Your life expectancy before the injury may also matter and the terms of your employment contract. The court will consider any information that may be relevant in assessing your lost earning capacity. 

Loss of Consortium

This is the loss of moral support, companionship, and intimacy following the injury of a spouse or registered domestic partner in a bus accident.  This compensation is accorded to the spouse or registered domestic partner of the victim of a bus accident.  The plaintiff receives non-compensatory damages for the loss of his/her regular spouse relations and companionship. This compensation is not inclusive of economic losses, including the injured spouse's loss of earning capacity. 

In a loss of consortium lawsuit, the plaintiff has to prove several elements.  The plaintiff has to prove that his/her spouse or domestic partner suffered injuries due to negligence or wrongful act of another party. It must be evident that the plaintiff and the victim were legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. The plaintiff must have suffered a loss of consortium due to the injuries suffered by the spouse or domestic partner. To get compensation, it must be evident that the loss of consortium resulted from the negligence of the defendant or wrongful acts of the defendants.

Vehicle Repair

If you are involved in a bus accident and your vehicle is damaged, the compensation may include the cost incurred in repairing your vehicle. When seeking vehicle repair compensation, you may seek compensation from the auto insurer of the other driver. You may also rely on your own uninsured or under-insured motor insurance in case the bus driver is not insured or if the driver is underinsured. You may also directly seek compensation from the bus driver.

Non-economic compensation may include:

Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering is a type of non-compensatory damages. Compensatory damages are inclusive of other subjective losses to which you cannot attach a dollar amount. Other subjective losses include anxiety, insomnia, emotional distress, shock, inconvenience, grief, and humiliation.  How does the court calculate pain and suffering? There is no fixed standard under California law for determining the value of pain and suffering and other non-economic losses. The plaintiff must prove that he/she has suffered pain and suffering or is likely to suffer pain and suffering in the future. Based on the evidence and common sense, the court attaches a value to the plaintiff's pain and suffering. 

When seeking compensation for pain and suffering, a physical injury is not necessary. For instance, no physical injury is needed when you are seeking compensation for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. The same case applies when you are seeking compensation for negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, it may be much easier to have compensation for pain and suffering granted if there is evidence of physical injuries. For example, if you have suffered an injury leading to permanent disfigurement or long-term loss of a function, you may get compensation for pain and suffering. You may also prove the presence of pain and suffering if the injuries suffered are difficult to treat or take a long time to recover.

Seeking counseling may help reinforce the presence of pain and suffering, but it is not a must to seek counseling. If you have experienced subjective symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and depression, the testimony of a mental health professional can help prove that. The mental health practitioner can help to prove the presence of symptoms that are not easy to prove through objective tests.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

After suffering injuries in a bus accident, you may receive compensation for the loss of enjoyment of life. The accident may make detrimental alterations in your life or lifestyle.  You may no longer be able to participate in activities or pleasures of life that you used to enjoy before the accident. Loss of enjoyment of life is also known as hedonic damages.

Wrongful Death Claim in a Bus Accident

What should you do if your close relative like your child or spouse dies in a bus accident? In this case, your spouse would not be around to make a personal injury claim. You would have to file a wrongful death claim on their behalf.  This will enable you to hold the negligent party responsible for causing the bus accident liable. 

Under California law, several family members may receive compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit. They include the spouse or registered domestic partner of the deceased victim, and the children of the victim. If the children of the victim are not alive, the grandchildren of the victim may file a wrongful death lawsuit and receive compensation.  Any person who is entitled to inherit the property of the deceased in accordance with the California Intestate Succession Laws, may file a wrongful death lawsuit. 

The benefits awarded in a wrongful death lawsuit aims at compensating the family members for their loss.  The family members may receive both economic and non- economic compensation. Compensation in a wrongful death lawsuit may cover burial expenses, funeral costs, and loss of companionship and affection. The surviving family members may also receive compensation for lost earnings or lost future earnings of the deceased. 

Punitive Damages

Also known as exemplary damages, these are additional rewards on top of the compensation for damages suffered. Punitive damages are awarded at the court's discretion. Punitive damages apply if the court finds the behavior of the defendant, especially harmful. For instance, if the defendant was grossly negligent, punitive damages may apply.

The judge may award punitive damages to punish the defendant for his wrongdoing. The judge may also award punitive damages if he feels that compensatory damages are not enough to punish the mistakes of the defendant. Therefore, the purpose of punitive damages is not to make the plaintiff whole but to punish the wrongdoing of the defendant.

If you have suffered injuries in a bus accident, you need to seek the counsel of a personal injury attorney. The defendants may resist liability; your personal injury attorney will help you to identify all the defendants involved. If you are partly to blame for the accident, the attorney will advise you on the comparative fault law. You will still be able to recover a percentage of damages even if you are partly at fault.

Contact an Orange County Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you are a victim of a bus accident, the Orange County Personal Injury Attorney can assist you in seeking compensation. Contact us at 714-876-1959 and speak to one of our attorneys. We will be happy to assist you in getting the compensation you deserve.