Public Transportation Accidents: Know Your Rights

Every day you hear of a public transportation accident—the lives lost and injuries incurred due to the inexperience or distraction of the driver. In comparison to automobile and light duty truck accidents, public transportation incidents accounted for approximately 1.5% of traffic fatalities in the U.S. While that may seem low, the fact remains that in 2009 over 500 people were killed in public transportation accidents nationwide. If you or a family member is a user of mass transit, you should understand the issues that arise when the vehicle is involved in an accident.

In Missouri, MoDOT reports that in 2009 there were two fatalities involving public transportation vehicles (school buses). However, there were over 400 injuries reported, with the numbers split evenly between public buses and school buses. The reasons for these crashes vary from driver distraction to intoxication, but the underlying causes for the injuries are due to lack of internal safety measures within the vehicle itself. Buses generally do not have seat belts or air bags as it is virtually impossible to install them effectively. Add to this the fact that the construction of a bus is not designed to reduce impact and injuries.  It is designed to carry a large number of people in a confined area. Because destinations and trips are short and on roads with slower speeds, the implementation of safety devices is not a priority. Unfortunately, those rural roads and urban streets account for 88% of all traffic accidents in Missouri and the U.S.

What can you do to limit your potential risk? Remain seated throughout the ride until you reach your destination and do not rise until the vehicle stops completely. Double check the surroundings to make sure other vehicles are not endangering the bus. Sit in the middle section of the vehicle—statistics show more injuries and fatalities occur in the front and rear of the bus. Remain calm and use your head to extricate yourself from the damaged vehicle. Call 911 if you can and wait for medical attention.

Once you or your family member is safe, it’s time to evaluate the accident and decide whether to pursue a lawsuit. Filing legal action against the public transit authority or school district merits careful consideration and the need for an excellent attorney. Consulting an attorney will help you weigh the pros and cons of a lawsuit, what your legal rights are as a passenger, and what to expect during a trial. The reason for the legal action would be to recoup lost wages, medical expenses, physical and mental therapies, and emotional duress. An attorney will be the best judge of the strength of your claim and whether or not to seek legal action against the parties at fault.

When you step into a public transportation vehicle, you trust your health and livelihood to the driver and the company or entity that owns and operates the vehicle. You trust that proper care and maintenance of the bus has occurred and that the driver is competent, capable and properly experienced in driving that type of vehicle. When that trust is broken due to an accident through negligence, distraction or poor judgment, and you or a loved one is injured as a result, you have the right to seek legal guidance and support. No one should suffer alone in their time of need.

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