Articles Posted in Bus Accidents

Earlier this month in Bavaria, Germany, an accident between a passenger bus and a semi-truck resulted in 18 deaths and dozens of injuries. According to a national news report covering the tragic accident, a tour bus full of seniors enjoying a summer holiday crashed into the back of a truck that had slowed down for an approaching traffic jam.

Passenger BusEvidently, the accident occurred at around seven in the morning, on a day with fair weather and good visibility. Reports indicate that the bus, which was carrying 48 seniors between the ages of 66 and 81, was immediately engulfed in flames as it collided with the truck. Several people were able to evacuate the bus in the moments after the accident. However, firefighters told reporters that by the time they got to the scene, no one else was able to be removed from the wreckage, due to the extreme heat given off by the burning bus.

The accident is still under official investigation, and a final report has not yet been released. However, at this early juncture, it seems as though the bus driver was either distracted or had fallen asleep behind the wheel. There is no indication that he suffered a medical event in the moments leading up to the accident. However, since the bus driver was among those who were killed in the accident, authorities will not be able to obtain his side of the story.

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New Mexico statute 66-8-102 prohibits people from operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs. Drivers who are impaired, whether due to the influence of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, offer strong evidence of negligent conduct if they are involved in an accident.

School BusNormally, the levels of intoxication shown in the blood are admitted into evidence for the drivers involved in the accident, and sometimes for passengers as well. This may be true even if the person is not intoxicated beyond the legal limit. The question of whether a person’s level of intoxication may be admitted into evidence depends on whether the person could have avoided or mitigated the accident by exercising due care—that is, by being sober and alert. Drivers may also be considered impaired for other reasons, including fatigue, a physical disability, or driving without a license.

Intoxication and Punitive Damages

Driving while intoxicated or impaired may also give rise to punitive damages. If a defendant’s conduct is found to be willful, wanton, malicious, reckless, oppressive, or fraudulent, punitive damages may be imposed in New Mexico. Reckless conduct means acting intentionally with utter indifference to the consequences. This may be shown by demonstrating that a defendant was intoxicated while driving.

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When an accident occurs and a lawsuit is filed, the jury’s main purpose is to apportion liability and award damages. To do this, the jury must determine who was at fault for the incident and the resulting damages. In some circumstances, the negligent party is very evident given the surrounding facts; however, in certain situations, determining liability can be a bit murkier. In these situations, it is possible that the plaintiff may be found at fault for some or all of the accident. The outcome in a case in which the plaintiff is at fault can vary greatly depending on the state in which it occurs. Generally, there are four theories of negligence when determining liability:Pie Chart

  • Pure contributory negligence
  • Pure comparative negligence
  • Modified comparative negligence (50% rule)
  • Modified comparative negligence (51% rule)

New Mexico applies the doctrine of pure comparative negligence. This means that any injured party can file a lawsuit against any other party involved in the accident, regardless of the injured party’s percentage of fault. In these situations, the jury will make a determination as to the fault of each party involved and then apportion liability and damages in accordance with that level of fault. If a plaintiff is found to be partially at fault in causing the accident that resulted in their injuries, the plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by their own amount of fault. Since New Mexico employs pure comparative negligence, there is no bar to recovery even when a plaintiff’s fault exceeds 51%.

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There are few accidents more deadly than head-on collisions. In fact, depending on the type of vehicle involved in the accident and the age and physical condition of the passenger, survival rates in head-on collisions are typically less than 50%. While head-on collisions are dangerous, they are one of the easiest types of accidents to avoid if both parties are paying sufficient attention to the road.

Bus SeatsHead-on collisions are most commonly caused by one driver failing to pay attention to the road ahead of them. This may be because the driver is distracted by a passenger or is texting on their cell phone. In other cases, head-on collisions are caused by drunk or intoxicated drivers who have a difficult time maintaining control of their vehicle. In either case, a drunk or distracted driver can be held liable for any injuries resulting from a head-on collision through a New Mexico personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

New Mexico Wrongful Death Lawsuits

As noted above, most head-on collisions are fatal. Thus, many of the personal injury cases that are brought in the wake of a head-on collision are wrongful death cases. A New Mexico wrongful death case must be brought by a personal representative of the deceased person. If successful, any proceeds from the lawsuit will be distributed among the deceased’s heirs according to New Mexico Statutes 41-2-3. Generally speaking, the surviving spouse, children, and grandchildren of the deceased have priority. Secondary beneficiaries include siblings, parents, and the survivors of the deceased’s parents.

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According to the most recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), about 135 people are killed in school transportation-related crashes each year. Most of these fatalities occurred between the hours of seven and eight in the morning and between three and four in the afternoon. For example, between the years of 2003 and 2012, over 1,200 people were killed in school transportation-related accidents, many of these children. While this statistic only amounts to approximately half of one percent of the total 348,253 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes that occurred between those years, the thought of these accidents is terrifying.

School BusThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for many years did not find seat belts were needed on school buses. However, that position has recently changed. Federal law does not require seat belts on most school buses, which some say sufficiently protect students due to the way they are designed. However, school buses do not always protect children in certain types of crashes or rollovers. For this reason, many safety organizations now recommend seat belts on school buses.

While federal law does not require seat belts, more and more states are beginning to require seat belts in school buses. This year, many states have introduced legislation that would make seat belts mandatory, at least in newly manufactured school buses. However, some lawmakers question whether seat belts may slow students down to evacuate in an emergency. Right now, only six states — California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas — have laws requiring seat belts on school buses, and even then, some of these states have not provided the necessary funds for the schools to complete the required upgrades.

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The California Court of Appeals recently released a decision that upheld a trial court’s ruling to set aside their previous dismissal of an injury case filed by a woman who was hurt in an accident involving a passenger bus that was allegedly caused by the dangerous and reckless conduct of the bus driver. The plaintiff’s claim was initially dismissed after her attorney failed to respond to a motion to dismiss the case or attend the hearing to argue against it. However, the court set the dismissal aside after her attorney swore in a statement to the court that the mistake was his own fault. Using a provision that is relatively unique to California law, the court set aside the dismissal without evaluating the attorney’s failure to respond to the motion or attend the dismissal hearing. Since the appellate court upheld the trial court’s decision, the plaintiff will be able to have her day in court, and her claims against the defendant will proceed toward a possible settlement or trial.

Bus InteriorThe Plaintiff Suffered Injuries as a Passenger on a Greyhound Bus

The plaintiff in the case of Gee v. Greyhound is a woman who was hurt when the passenger bus on which she was traveling was involved in a crash that she blamed on the bus driver. After the accident, she consulted an attorney and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the company operating the bus as well as the driver, seeking damages for the injuries she sustained in the crash. In response to the lawsuit, the defendant sought to change the venue of the claim to another county where other plaintiffs had filed lawsuits based upon the same incident, and their request was granted. In addition to the venue change, the plaintiff was ordered to pay certain fees related to the change of venue, which her attorney failed to do.

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Operating a large vehicle involves a significant amount of training and expertise. Large trucks and buses have the ability to cause serious damage if the vehicle is involved in an accident. In fact, there are many situations each year in which a truck or bus accident claims the lives of several people all at once. The New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) is aware of the great responsibility it is to undertake a career driving a large motor vehicle and has created certain rules and regulations that govern these occupations.

School BusIn New Mexico, generally, in order to receive a driver’s license, individuals need to pass a written exam, pass a driving test, and then pay a fee. However, if someone is planning on driving a large vehicle or one that will be carrying passengers or cargo, the driver must apply for a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Specifically, school bus drivers have a very unique set of rules and requirements that pertain to them. These individuals must become specially certified and trained as a school bus driver, which includes:

  • Passing a criminal background check;
  • Maintaining a clean driving record;
  • Passing an additional written exam that focuses on school buses specifically; and
  • Passing a driving test while operating a school bus.

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The State Supreme Court in Delaware recently released its opinion regarding an accident that occurred on March 27, 2012. Evidently, a student was injured when she was struck by another vehicle as she was boarding a school bus. The student waited for the signal from the school bus driver to board as she was crossing the street, and as she did so, the third-party vehicle hit her.

School BusThe bus was insured by an insurance company, and the student brought a claim to receive personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. PIP benefits are an extension of car insurance that is supposed to cover medical expenses for those other than the insured when the insured causes an accident. They are often referred to as “no-fault” coverage because an injured party should be able to claim benefits whether or not the accident was the injured party’s fault.

The insurance company argued that they should not have to pay out these benefits because their insured was not at fault for the accident. However, the Superior and Supreme Courts disagreed. The courts cited the state statute that explains that these benefits should be applied “to each person occupying such motor vehicle and to any other person injured in an accident involving such motor vehicle, other than an occupant of another vehicle.”

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Bus drivers, taxi cabs, and train operators all share one thing in common, and that is a duty to their passengers. While all drivers have a duty to others on the road, these “common carriers” also have a heightened duty to ensure that the passengers they are transporting for pay enjoy a safe trip. When a common carrier lapses in this duty, the individual driver as well as the company employing him may be held liable in a New Mexico lawsuit.

up-in-clouds-1556517Lawsuits against common carriers rely on a breach of the common carrier’s duty to its passengers. Commonly, this is established through some kind of violation of the law or showing that the driver was somehow negligent in the operation of the vehicle. This can be shown through direct evidence, such as a blood-alcohol report indicating a driver was legally intoxicated at the time of the accident, or though circumstantial evidence.

Circumstantial evidence is evidence that tends to prove something but requires a fact-finder to make an inference to reach the ultimate conclusion. For example, if a driver inexplicably crosses over the center line and into traffic without any explanation, and no evidence of a medical emergency was presented, a fact-finder may determine that the driver had fallen asleep behind the wheel. This is similar to what happened in a recent accident that claimed 12 lives in France.

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Late last month, the Supreme Court of North Carolina released its opinion in a case stemming from an accident involving a school bus and another driver. The accident occurred back in 2007, when the plaintiff’s car was hit by a school bus that was in the process of transporting students to an athletic event. Approximately three years later, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the school board, alleging that the school bus driver was negligent and that his negligence resulted in the plaintiff’s serious injuries. This lawsuit was brought in front of the North Carolina Industrial Commission (“the Commission”).

Public school buses parked in a line with doors open

The defendant moved for a motion for summary judgment, claiming that the Commission did not have jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff then appealed this decision, which was ultimately unanimously reversed. However, the defendant then went on to file a petition for discretionary review, which was permitted. The plaintiff argued that the school activity buses should be within the Commission’s discretion because the vehicle falls within the definition of a “public school bus or school transportation service vehicle.” The Supreme Court ruled that school buses, as described in the governmental immunity statute, and school activity buses, such as the one involved here, are two distinct categories, so these buses were not incorporated into the immunity waivers.

Jurisdictional Issues When Bringing a Negligence Suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act in New Mexico

As this blog has previously addressed, the Federal Tort Claims Act was created to limit the burden of excessive lawsuits against the government. However, with this Act come certain exceptions that allow individuals to bring suits against the government despite the statute. Issues may arise when there is a question as to what is actually covered by the Act and where to bring these types of suits.

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A double-decker tour bus crashed earlier this month in San Francisco, startling many bystanders and seriously injuring several passengers. According to one national news report, the driver of the tour bus lost control and ended up causing destruction across almost two city blocks. A witness reported that they saw the tour bus driving very fast – what seemed like over 40 M.P.H. – through an intersection. The witness also stated that the bus looked “like it was going out of control.”

double-decker-1447643-300x224The bus ended up slamming into a bicyclist, hitting two pedestrians, and then colliding with several cars, all without stopping. The tour bus finally ended its path of destruction when it came to a stop in the middle of a construction site in the popular Union Square, an area known for its shopping and hotels.

Witnesses told reporters that the accident sounded as though a bomb went off and that it seemed like the bus did not have brakes. After the bus finally stopped, over 20 of the 30 passengers were injured, and eight individuals were taken to local hospitals. As of the time of publication of the article, four people were still in critical condition following the accident.

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France recently experienced one of the largest truck crashes in the country’s long history. According to a national news report, over 40 people, mostly seniors, were killed while they were on a day trip visiting a countryside town. Evidently, this was the worst road disaster the country experienced in over 30 years.

old-blue-bus-2-1451006According to initial reports, a tourist bus crashed into a truck carrying logs and other timber materials. Witnesses and local residents of the town told investigators and news reporters that the location of the accident occurred at a very dangerous bend in the road. After the truck and bus slammed into each other, they both caught on fire and became engulfed in flames.

An investigation is ongoing to determine the actual cause of the accident. Some stated that the timber driver lost control of his truck and was left in the middle of the road, and when the bus approached the driver was unable to avoid an accident. Some conflicting reports stated that the bus driver was able to get some people off the bus. Townspeople reported seeing massive amounts of smoke from miles away. The two large vehicles were basically incinerated and completely black when emergency crews were finally able to get the flames under control.

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Late this month, a New Mexico bus driver was caught on camera eating a burrito immediately prior to causing a serious accident. The driver caused a multi-car pileup when he was traveling down a city street because he failed to notice the vehicles in front of him coming to a stop. According to one local news source, the bus driver ended up slamming into the back of the vehicle directly in front of him, subsequently causing a domino effect.

on-bus-1452762.jpgWhen emergency personnel and officers arrived, the city bus driver claimed that he was texting right before the accident occurred. Interestingly, video cameras caught his actions right before the accident happened, and he was not texting. The driver was actually eating a burrito at the time of the accident. Video footage shows him eating the burrito with both of his hands and taking sips of his drink. It was clear that he was distracted but not because of the actions he originally claimed.

One of the individuals involved in the accident has brought a civil lawsuit against the city. The city has not terminated the city bus driver, even though they admitted that city bus drivers are not supposed to be drinking or eating while operating a city bus. The city claims that they retrained the driver and that he has not been involved in an accident since.
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Earlier this month in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a truck slammed into the side of a bus as a result of a serious accident. Local news reports have video footage of the accident as it occurred because there was a camera inside the bus. According to one news source, the truck was approaching a bus near Central Avenue and Unser Boulevard. Footage reveals that the truck neared the left side of the bus before the accident occurred. The truck driver proceeded to run a red light and slam into the side of the bus.

bus-on-the-run-1170123-m.jpgThe camera inside the bus showed the bus driver unfortunately getting slammed by the truck and subsequently smashing through the window. Luckily, no one besides the driver was on the bus at the time of the accident. However, both drivers had minor injuries. Furthermore, reports indicate that the bus driver was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Traffic in the area was at a standstill and delayed for hours as personnel attempted to clean up the area.
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Authorities have reported that a 72-year-old Texas man is facing felony charges after he rear=ended a school bus near Kirbyville, Texas earlier this month, injuring several children. According to an article released by The Beaumont Enterprise, the school bus was stopping along U.S. 96 to allow a student to get on board when the tractor trailer crashed into the back of the bus.

matt-on-truck-197163-m.jpgPreliminary reports cited in the article state that the bus was flashing all of the lights on the back to indicate that it was stopping to pick up a child when the accident occurred. Six of the 53 students on the bus were injured in the crash and hospitalized, although fortunately none of them sustained life-threatening injuries.

The felony charges that the driver of the truck is facing are very serious, for he could be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to $10,000 if he is ultimately convicted of the charges. Unfortunately for the driver of the 18-wheeler, the criminal charges are not the only legal problems that he may encounter. Because of the nature of the crash and the injuries caused, the truck driver may also be subject to substantial civil liability if the families of the injured children choose to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit.
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A semi-truck smashed through the median on Interstate 35 near Davis, Oklahoma and crashed into a bus carrying 15 players from the North Central Texas College women’s softball team last month. Tragically, four of the players were killed as a result of the night-time collision. According to an article, the initial investigation suggested that there was no sign that brakes were applied or that the driver tried to steer away from the crash before it occurred. It initially appeared that the truck drove straight as the road curved to the right and continued into oncoming traffic.

baseball-glove-713628-m.jpgAccording to state investigators, the driver told them that he was distracted by something in the cabin, but the article suggests that the investigators were not entirely convinced by the truck driver’s story. As the investigation continues, the data recorder can be retrieved from the truck, and it can be determined if the brakes were applied before the accident. Authorities have also sought a search warrant to search the contents of the truck in response to the truck driver’s explanation.

It appears that the authorities are suspicious that the truck driver may have been asleep or inebriated at the time of the crash, and the details of the driver’s explanation are not yet clear enough to determine if the driver has admitted fault for the accident.
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Last Wednesday, a multiple-vehicle collision left the passenger of a pickup truck dead after the truck was rear-ended by a South Texas College bus and burst into flames. According to an article by The Monitor, the vehicles were traveling eastbound along Expressway 83 in Donna, Texas, when the pickup truck slowed down in anticipation of an upcoming wreck.

coaches-922577-m.jpgThe South Texas College bus failed to slow down, crashing into the pickup and causing it to burst into flames. Bystanders helped the driver of the pickup escape shortly after the wreck, but the passenger remained trapped inside and did not survive. An eyewitness said that he noticed the pickup slowing down, but the bus “just kept going, like it didn’t have brakes.” After hitting the pickup truck, the bus crashed into a business, damaging a sign and some outdoor merchandise. According to the article, the driver of the bus suffered minor injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital, where a blood sample was collected.

The Dangers of Buses and Trucks in Traffic
The bus involved in this accident was used to shuttle students between two campuses of South Texas College, and it travels along high-traffic routes, as do many other buses and large vehicles. When buses and semi-trucks travel on city streets and in congested areas, they present a unique danger to drivers and pedestrians who are at risk from accidents involving the larger vehicles.

Based on the witness statements in the article, it appears that the brakes on the bus were either not functioning properly or that the driver was distracted and failed to apply them in time.

Even if the brakes were functioning properly, and the driver applied them as soon as he could, large vehicles like transit buses cannot stop as quickly as other vehicles, and the crash may have been unavoidable under the circumstances. In whatever way the accident occurred, the large size and weight of the bus likely contributed to the pickup truck bursting into flames and the ultimate death of the passenger inside.

How to Deal with the Loss and Expense of an Accident
When a family member is seriously injured or killed in a traffic accident, their loved ones quickly realize how expensive a tragedy can truly be. Victims are saddled with medical bills, funeral expenses, lost wages, and other costs. Worse than the financial burden, the loss of a loved one can have a tremendous affect on the well-being of an entire family. When faced with all of the grief, costs, and expenses associated with an accident, the victims of an accident often realize that the amounts offered by insurance companies to compensate them for an accident are not even close to enough to cover all of the expenses they will face. Often, victims must hire an attorney and file a New Mexico accident lawsuit to get serious consideration from an insurance company.
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