New Yorkers are used to relying on different forms of alternative transportation. For trips close to home, they take the subway, a taxi or a city bus. For longer trips outside of the city, many choose trains or commercial bus services.
Unfortunately, those bus rides are not always as safe as they should be. Over the last several years, a string of high-profile bus accidents have resulted in catastrophic injuries and deaths in New York and all along the Eastern Seaboard.
Take, for example, a March 2011 crash on Interstate 95 in the Bronx that killed 15 bus passengers and left others gravely injured. The bus was returning to New York City from the Mohegan Sun casino when the driver lost control. The bus hit a guardrail, then tipped and crashed into a signpost. The force of the accident was sufficient to shear the roof off the bus.
An investigation after the accident showed that the crash was likely caused by the driver’s high rate of speed. National Transportation Safety Board investigators say the driver’s speed reached 78 miles per hour, which was the vehicle’s maximum possible speed.
In addition, the evidence showed that the driver was likely sleep-deprived at the time of the accident. Making matters worse, he had been dismissed from at least two previous bus driving jobs and had his license suspended on eight occasions.
In the wake of the accident, the driver has been charged with a number of criminal offenses, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide. His trial began in late September 2012. As of late October, a verdict had not yet been reached.
In crashes as severe as this one, criminal charges are often brought by the government. However, it is important to recognize that the goal of criminal prosecutions is to punish crimes, not to compensate accident victims for what they have lost.
All commercial bus drivers have a responsibility to operate their vehicles safely. They are expected to drive at safe speeds and use a degree of care commensurate with the large size and inherent dangerousness of their vehicles. Part of this duty includes being well-rested, sober and free from distraction.
In addition, bus companies have a duty to make sure their fleets are safe. Companies have to maintain their buses to make sure that they don’t malfunction on the road. In addition, bus companies have a duty to supervise their drivers and ensure that they are not allowed to drive if they are at risk of putting passengers in harm’s way.
When accidents are caused because drivers and bus companies do not uphold these duties, injured passengers can seek financial compensation in personal injury lawsuits. Although nothing can make the accident go away, a personal injury recovery can give victims the resources they need to recover from their injuries. Some of losses that victims can seek compensation for in a personal injury lawsuit include medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages and loss of future earning capacity, as well as loss of enjoyment of life and any disabilities they may be left with.
State and local law limits the time bus accident victims have to bring a lawsuit. In New York City, not only are you limited in any suit against a municipal bus owner such as the New York City Transit Authority to one year and 90 days, but in order to protect your rights to bring that lawsuit, you must first serve a Notice of Claim within 90 days from the date of the accident or you can lose your right to sue. This also holds true for most city- and state-run trains as well. New York state law limits actions against private bus companies to three years.
It is imperative that a person who is seriously injured in a bus accident consult an experienced, knowledgeable personal injury attorney. The quality of their future may depend on it.