Public transportation accidents include crashes involving airplanes, buses, trains, the subway, cable cars, and taxis. Because they so often involve injuries to multiple passengers, these mass transit accidents can be devastating. If you are hurt in a public transportation accident, you should take photographs from different angles of the scene, showing any property damage and any personal injuries. You should also get the contact information of witnesses and obtain a copy of the police report.
Many public transportation entities, such as public buses and trains, are considered common carriers. In some states, school buses are also common carriers. These entities offer services to the public with the authority or license of a regulatory governmental body. Common carriers are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence to make sure passengers travel safely.
However, liability can be more difficult to prove when the at-fault public transportation entity is owned by a state or a municipality, as many public transportation entities are. Whether an at-fault public transportation entity is public or private may make a difference to the ease with which you can recover for an accident in which you are injured.
If, for example, the city owns the buses in which you were injured, the city may have governmental immunity from suit, except in certain circumstances. Even if your case falls into one of those exceptions, you may have to follow special procedural rules to file a lawsuit or claim.
Notice Procedures and Governmental Immunity in Public Transportation Lawsuits
Most states provide for governmental immunity from a personal injury suit by a private citizen, except in certain cases. When a personal injury lawsuit is allowed, the claimant will have to follow special rules in order to sue the governmental entity. Public transportation accident lawsuits are often subject to these special rules, such as when a city bus driver causes an injury or a city-owned subway conductor causes an injury.
Generally, when a public transportation entity causes an injury or injuries, a large team of insurance professionals and lawyers will try to investigate. For example, school buses are often owned by a government body, and they have the highest rate of bus fatalities according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). If your child is hurt on a school bus owned by a government body, you will need to file a claim with the bus' insurer. If that claim is denied, you will have a short time frame in which to give notice and sue the governmental body responsible for the bus.
Although every state has enacted different laws associated with suing governmental entities for personal injuries, in most states, a personal injury claimant has only a brief window in which to notify the governmental body responsible for public transportation of the accident and the intent to file suit. The notice period may be as short as 30 days or 60 days, depending upon the state. In most instances the notice must specify the claim being brought, describe the time, place, and circumstances giving rise to the claim, and provide the name and address of the claimant.
Similarly, the period of time the claimant has to file the lawsuit may be much shorter than the statute of limitations that applies to suing private citizens. Failing to adhere to a state's special notice and time limitation rules can result in a claimant being barred from pursuing a lawsuit and recovering compensation in many states. The special rules may also have limits on how much can be recovered from government entities. The cap on what you may recover from a governmental entity is as low as $100,000 in some states.
In some public transportation accidents, the public transportation entity is not at fault. Instead, a passenger car driver or truck driver causes the accident. In that case, you may be able to file a third-party claim with that driver's insurer.