Georgia bus accident law is complicated due to the variety of companies and agencies involved in bus transportation and the different regulations that may apply to each entity.
Accidents can involve school buses, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), Georgia Regional Transit Authority (GRTA), Cobb County Transit (CCT), or other public transportation system buses, private company-operated buses, or charter buses. If you or a family member were injured in a bus accident, the process for filing a personal injury lawsuit and the amount and type of compensation that may be awarded may be different, depending on who was responsible for the bus accident.
Bus Accident Injuries
Bus accidents occur for many of the same reasons that regular passenger vehicle accidents do, including distracted driving, speeding, or other unsafe activities such as drunk driving. Improper maintenance or defective equipment can also cause bus accidents.
One major difference between bus accidents and regular car accidents is that bus accidents can more easily result in catastrophic injuries to passengers, occupants of other vehicles, and pedestrians.
Bus passengers can be severely injured because buses often lack safety features, such as seatbelts or airbags, that help prevent passenger injuries. In addition, buses are often top-heavy, making them prone to rollovers that can increase the severity of passenger injuries.
Buses are also larger than passenger vehicles, which makes them more difficult to operate safely. As with large truck accidents, the enormous size and weight of buses make it more likely that a passenger vehicle will sustain severe damage when involved in a bus accident.
Georgia School Bus Accidents
Parents rely on school buses to transport their children to and from school safely. Hundreds of thousands of children ride school buses in the metro Atlanta area alone.
Sadly, school bus accidents are not uncommon. For example, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that metro Atlanta school buses were involved in approximately 100 accidents per month in 2016, resulting in more than 330 injuries.
School bus accident cases can be very complicated. For example, school buses may be operated by the school district or by an independent company hired by the school district. A school district may attempt to claim it was not liable (financially responsible) if the bus driver was a contractor employed by a third party.
School bus accident cases may also be complicated by Georgia's immunity laws. Sovereign immunity is a legal principle that says a government entity cannot be sued without its consent. Georgia counties, cities, towns and government agencies (including school districts) can only be sued if the government has waived its sovereign immunity.
That doesn't mean it is impossible to hold a school district responsible for bus accident injuries. For example, school districts can waive their immunity from bus accident lawsuits by purchasing motor vehicle insurance (see O.C.G.A. § 33-24-51). However, the amount that the injured person may recover in those cases is limited by the amount of the school district's insurance policy. In some cases, a claim may be made against the driver individually.
Lawsuits against government entities usually also have filing and process requirements that may be different from lawsuits against corporations or private individuals.
Public transit system bus accidents
Georgia has many different public transit systems, including MARTA, Cobb County Transit (CCT), Gwinnett County Transit (GCT) and Chatham Area Transit (CAT). These systems serve millions of bus riders each year.
Many of these transit systems are run by government agencies. Therefore, bus accident lawsuits may be subject to additional process requirements, limitations on liability due to sovereign immunity, and limitations on damages. Those who were injured in a public transit bus accident may face additional challenges when attempting to recover compensation from a government agency.
"Common Carrier" Bus Accidents
Bus companies and charter buses may be subject to strict federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations as well as Georgia's "carrier" laws.
While all drivers are required to follow the "rules of the road," FMCSA regulations and Georgia's carrier laws impose additional responsibilities on commercial drivers who carry people or goods for hire. For example, commercial bus drivers are subject to specific licensing requirements, and bus companies have specific responsibilities for hiring and monitoring their employees. Commercial bus drivers are also subject to specific hours-of-service limitations, and violations of these requirements may increase the driver or company's liability.
If the bus driver or bus company violated any of these regulations and an accident resulted, it may be possible to hold them financially responsible for resulting injuries. A knowledgeable attorney understands the complex laws that regulate commercial bus activity and will be able to determine whether a violation of those regulations contributed to causing a bus accident.
Who is Responsible for Bus Accident Injuries?
It is not always clear who is responsible for causing an accident, and there may be multiple parties that contributed to causing a specific bus accident.
Depending on the case, responsible parties may include:
- The bus driver's employer. Under Georgia's doctrine of "respondeat superior," it may be possible to hold the bus driver's employer financially responsible for the negligent actions of an employee. Whether it is possible to do so will depend on a variety of factors, including whether the person was an employee or a contractor and whether the accident occurred while the driver was acting in the scope of his or her duties. Government agencies may have immunity against certain types of employee negligence lawsuits.
- The bus driver. If the bus driver was negligent, it may be possible to hold them financially responsible for a resulting accident.
- The vehicle or parts manufacturer. A mechanical defect, such as defective tires or brakes, could have contributed to the accident.
- A bus maintenance company or mechanic. If the bus was improperly maintained or repaired and an accident resulted, those who were responsible for bus maintenance can potentially be held liable for resulting injuries. Such liability may be on the part of the bus company's own maintenance employees or a separate company responsible for the maintenance.
- Another driver. If the negligence of another driver contributed to causing the bus accident, it may be possible to hold the other driver responsible.
Getting the Compensation You Deserve after a Bus Accident
Whether you were injured in a school bus accident, a MARTA accident, a charter bus accident, or a Greyhound bus accident, the laws governing bus accident injury lawsuits are complicated. An experienced bus accident attorney will be able to determine who was responsible for the accident and get you the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
Contact the Hadden Law Firm to learn more.