The recent bus accident in Dinwiddie, Virginia sent 11 people to the hospital, with authorities charging the bus driver with reckless driving. In light of this incident, attorney Jason Konvicka shares what people can do in the wake of a bus accident.
Every year, passengers, other drivers and pedestrians are killed or seriously injured by bus accidents. Due to their large size – sometimes 45 feet long and 17,000 pounds – buses are more difficult to control than the average vehicle. Buses require more time and distance to turn or stop, and they can have very large blind spots. This means that buses have increased opportunities for accidents compared to smaller vehicles.
If you have been injured in a bus accident – either as a passenger, pedestrian, or while driving another vehicle – you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, bus accident claims can be complicated, so you may want to consult an attorney. Bus accident lawsuits typically involve multiple parties and hinge on a number of different factors. For example, there are often both state and federal laws that may be applicable to the case. This means that the plaintiff may have a choice of whether to sue in state or federal court, and that they may allege claims under multiple different statutes.
Another complication may be which parties to sue. Depending on the cause of the accident, it may be appropriate to sue the bus driver, the bus owner, or both. There are also statutory time limits, called statutes of limitation, that dictate how long a plaintiff has until their claim expires. An experienced attorney can help you with these issues, and more.
There are many different laws – both state and federal – that govern bus companies and their drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for example, is responsible for passing federal regulations regarding the safety and operation of commercial trucks and buses. These regulations include prohibitions against using a handheld cell phone while driving, as well as prohibitions against drowsy or distracted driving. Federal regulations also require that drivers use extreme caution in inclement weather and other difficult driving conditions. If a driver fails to follow these federal regulations, they may be liable for violating a federal statute as well as for negligence under Virginia tort law.
Proving negligence in a bus accident
Under Virginia tort law, the first step to determining whether you have a valid claim for your injuries is to determine whether your injuries were caused by another’s negligence. If a person or driver acts unreasonably under the circumstances, then that person is negligent. For example, a reasonable person would not drive while under the influence of alcohol. Thus, if a driver is under the influence of alcohol, he is acting negligently. If this act of negligence causes an accident and injuries to others, the driver will likely be liable. The same is true for bus drivers.
Driver negligence is often a cause of bus accidents, and therefore is often the cause of any injuries resulting from the accident. There are many ways a driver, or even a bus owner, can be negligent. Drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol are likely negligent, as are drivers who are fatigued or driving while drowsy. In fact, driver fatigue is a common cause of commercial bus accidents.
But drivers are not the only parties who may be liable under a theory of negligence. Bus owners and operators may also be to blame for accidents. Bus owners are responsible for keeping buses in proper working condition, and for performing regular maintenance on bus equipment. If the bus owner fails to do so, they may be negligent.
Who do I sue in a bus accident?
Once you have determined the laws under which to sue, and the proper court in which to file your suit, you must then figure out which parties to sue. Determining which party is at fault and should be sued can be more complicated than it seems. For example, if a bus is owned or controlled by a school district or a company, but the accident was caused by the driver’s negligence, it may be necessary to file suit against both the owner and the driver.
Video evidence in bus accident cases
Another important factor in any bus accident claim is the available evidence. Often, buses are equipped with video surveillance cameras, which either continuously record activity, or will begin to record activity in the event of an accident or collision. These are called continuous recording systems or event-based recording systems. Continuous video systems are used in many school buses and some motor coaches and transit buses to record driver and passenger behavior, vehicle diagnostics, and for added security.
In the event of an accident, these videotapes can be invaluable evidence to prove how and why the crash occurred. However, bus companies only keep video data for a limited amount of time after it is recorded. With regard to records and maintenance, companies are required to keep records for 30 days or more for vehicles under their control. To ensure that all relevant evidence is preserved for your case, you must not hesitate to contact an attorney.
Legal deadlines in bus accident cases
In addition to evidence-related deadlines, when you are involved in a bus accident, any claims you may have will eventually expire, or be “time-barred.” This means that you need to act quickly when filing your case. In Virginia, the statute of limitations for most personal injury lawsuits is two years. An experienced attorney can help ensure that your claim is timely filed.
Call for a free consultation
Taking legal action following a bus accident requires expertise and knowledge to ensure that the right claims are pursued against the right parties before the time limit on the claim expires.
The Allen Law Firm has handled numerous bus accident cases and has the resources and experience to guide clients through this potentially complicated process. If you or a loved one has been injured in a bus accident, contact an Allen & Allen bus accident attorney for help. We can investigate your case and give you the advice you need to protect your interests and help you obtain full and fair compensation. For a free consultation, call Allen & Allen at 1-866-388-1307.
About The Author: Jason Konvicka is a partner and trial attorney with Allen & Allen in Richmond, Virginia. During his 20+ year career, he has achieved numerous record-setting jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients. His practice focuses on personal injury, medical malpractice, bus accident, defective products, and premises liability cases. Outside of the courtroom, Jason is involved with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and currently serves on its Board of Governors as Vice President.
 See, e.g., 49 CFE § 300 (federal statute on bus safety); Va. Code Ann. § 22.1 (state statute on tort liability in bus accidents).
 See generally 49 CFR §§ 300-399, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/title49/b/5/3.
 Drivers are prohibited from texting while driving and from using handheld cell phones while driving. 49 CFR §§392.80, 392.82; “No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.” 49 CFR §392.3.
 See, e.g., Va. Code Ann. § 22.1-194.
 See the PDF document titled “Commercial Vehicles Onboard Video Systems” at www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SafetyStudies.aspx.