Articles Posted in Bus Accidents

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school busIn a recent Texas appellate case, the court considered whether there were enough facts to establish a waiver of the Arlington Independent School District’s immunity from suit under the Texas Tort Claims Act in a bus accident case. The case arose when a minor was standing inside a school bus aisle. The bus was going five miles per hour when the driver slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting another bus. The minor was thrown forward and hit the windshield.

The minor’s representative sued AISD on the grounds that the bus driver was negligent and had caused the daughter’s injuries and damages. The complaint stated that the trial court could hear this case because its sovereign immunity was waived for personal injury claims caused by negligent school bus drivers under § 101.021(1) of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. The trial court denied the school district’s motion for summary judgment, which argued there was no jurisdiction due to sovereign immunity.

The school district argued that the parent had not pled a claim that fell within the law’s limited immunity waiver for the use of a motor vehicle. Instead, it argued, the complaint just showed that the district had failed to supervise, direct, or control students riding the school bus. Prior case law stated that when claims have to do with the direction and supervision of students, there is no waiver of immunity. The allegations have to be related to the negligent use of a motor vehicle in order for the lawsuit to proceed.

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school-bus-1525654In Austin Independent School District v. Idolinda Salinas, a mother sued individually, as a next friend of her son, for injuries suffered by her son when he opened a back exit door and leaped from a moving school bus.

The son was a child with a disability going home on a District school bus. The bus passed his stop, so the son asked that the driver pull over to let him out, but the driver didn’t. The son tried to climb out a window, and when that didn’t work, he went to the back of the bus.

He stood at the back of the bus for a while and then opened a handle on the back door, which triggered a buzzer to alert the driver. The door opened, and the boy jumped out and suffered injuries. The bus driver only pulled over when she saw the boy on the ground.

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wheels-on-a-bus-1363811-m-3Buses are common carriers. If you are injured in a bus crash, you should be aware that usually their duty is higher to passengers than drivers of other vehicles. Although the duty is higher, liability is not automatic. In Mackey v. Midland-Odessa Transit, the defendant was a governmental entity that operated a public bus. The plaintiff was a representative of her sister’s estate. Her sister had died while a passenger on one of the defendant’s public buses.

In a plea to the jurisdiction, the defendant argued that it was immune from suit and that the plaintiff hadn’t shown that governmental immunity had been waived under the Texas Tort Claims Act. A plea to the jurisdiction is an assertion of immunity from suit due to the court’s lack of jurisdiction. The trial court granted the plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

The appellate court explained that sovereign immunity deprives a trial court of jurisdiction for lawsuits against governmental units unless there is consent to the suit. It found that the state had provided consent to be sued through Section 101.021 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, which allows a governmental entity to be liable in a suit for personal injury or death proximately caused by an employee’s negligence in the scope of employment when the negligence arises from use of a motor-driven vehicle, the employee would be personally liable, and personal injury or death would, if the government were a private person, result in liability under Texas law.

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school-bus-793842-m.jpgRecently, four people died and over a dozen were hurt in a Texas college bus crash. The accident happened when a tractor-trailer crossed a median in Oklahoma and crashed into the bus, which was transporting a women’s college softball team.

The team was going home after a scrimmage in Oklahoma. Three of the women died at the scene, and a fourth died at a hospital. The sides of the bus were heavily damaged. The National Transportation Safety Board sent investigators to the site, and both the bus driver and the tractor-trailer driver had to take toxicology tests.

A major accident like this can be devastating both physically and financially. When multiple people are harmed, it can be difficult to sort out who should pay and how much should be paid. In general, the party at fault must pay. If the tractor-trailer driver in the situation described above was 100% at fault, its insurer will have to sort out multiple claims against the same policy. It may be possible to reach a global settlement. However, a knowledgeable personal injury attorney will also look into other sources of recovery because a single insurance policy does not always cover all of the injuries, physical and emotional, that arise out of an accident involving multiple fatalities.

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photo_8185_20081204.jpgConstruction projects can be dangerous and can be the result of faulty machinery, inexperience, lack of safety measures, and weather, among other factors. Notably, the construction industry in Texas not only employs nearly 600,000 Texans, but it also contributes $9.2 billion in wages. Unfortunately, construction workers face some of the most deadly working conditions in the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 715 construction-related deaths were recorded in the U.S. in 2010, and 138 of these deaths occurred in Texas.

In June 2013, four workers were hurt, three critically, after a barn frame collapsed at a Texas A&M University equestrian complex that was under construction. According to a Texas A&M spokesman, the collapse took place on university property about a mile from the main campus. The National Weather Service reported that conditions at the time of the collapse were cloudy with temperatures in the mid-80s and winds gusting just above 10 mph, indicating that weather was likely not a factor.

This accident is just one of many accidents involving construction workers taking place across Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, Texas leads the nation in the rate of construction worker fatalities. Although federal and state regulations provide some protections to construction workers and their families, there is still more that can be done. Even though workers injured on the job are supposed to recover lost income via workers’ compensation, in at least 60% of work-related fatalities in Texas, no benefits from workers’ compensation are paid. In fact, according to data from the Texas Department of Insurance, this number is even higher for construction workers. Additionally, Texas is currently the only state in the United States that does not require workers’ compensation for private employers.

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cell phone ban.jpgUnlike the majority of the states across the country, texting while driving is not currently illegal in the State of Texas. This is despite evidence showing that looking at a cell phone while driving can lead to dangerous and deadly car accidents. Car accidents are common occurrences, even when a driver is not distracted. However, accidents become even more common in cases where drivers are texting and driving. In fact, according to Distraction.gov, an official U.S. Government website for distracted driving, text messaging creates a crash risk 23 times worse than driving while not distracted. Additionally, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, of the state’s 3,048 traffic fatalities in 2011, distracted driving ranks third on the list of causes.

Unfortunately, the State of Texas lags behind 39 other states and the District of Columbia, and has no official ban on texting while driving. In 2011, State Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, passed a bill called the Alex Brown Memorial Act in honor of 17-year old girl killed in a single-vehicle accident while texting and driving. The bill would have prohibited texting in driving throughout the State of Texas, but Governor Rick Perry, citing that the states should not micromanage people’s behavior, vetoed the bill.

The good news is that state legislators are once again seeking to have some sort of distracted while driving bans established that would hopefully limit drivers from texting behind the wheel. Rep. Craddick is among a half dozen legislators who filed bills for the 2013 Legislative Session seeking a statewide ban on texting while driving. Although the proposed bills vary, all of them look to placing restrictions on the use of handheld wireless communications while driving. The bills are gaining momentum in the Legislature and could pass again. Although Gov. Perry can veto the bill, this time around, there is a chance it could be overridden by a veto. If passed, these laws will most likely not go into effect until 2014.

With the exception of drivers in school zones, novice drivers, and school bus drivers, there is no statewide prohibition on using your cell phone and texting while driving in Texas. Specifically, the following laws are currently in place:

• Drivers under the age of 18 are not allowed to using their cell phone at all while driving –meaning they cannot text, surf the Internet, or place calls.

• Drivers are prohibited from using handheld devices in school crossing zones.

• New drivers with Learners Permits may not use handheld devices during the first six months of driving
• School bus drivers are not allowed to text or use any other form of hands free devices while behind the wheel with passengers ages 17 or under.

In each of these cases, an officer can stop and cite a driver for using a cellphone without a secondary reason for pulling the driver over. Notably, Texas also has a category for cell phone/electronic equipment distraction on police accident report forms.

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826475_parking sxchu.jpgLast week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrationshut down 26 commercial curbside bus operations in six states due to purported safety hazards. Although the agency’s officials halter operations in Georgia, Indiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, many of the 233 affected routes transported passengers along Interstate 95 between New York’s Chinatown district and Florida. The closure was the largest federal intervention in the industry.

The curbside bus industry has reportedly grown quickly over the past decade. Curbside bus companies utilize online ticket sales and do not operate out of terminals. Once a passenger has purchased a ticket, they are then picked up on a designated street corner. Curbside bus fares tend to be cheaper than other motor coach carriers due to fewer overhead costs and lower driver wages. According to federal investigators, curbside bus companies are involved in fatal accidents seven times more often than other commercial motor coach operators.

The closures followed a 12-month Safety Administration investigation of three curbside bus companies. All of the operations closed by the agency were part of a network operated by Apex Bus Inc., I-95 Coach Inc., or New Century Travel Inc. Only nine of the companies closed by federal authorities were actively in service. An additional 13 companies were operating without permission to transport passengers. 10 company employees, managers, and owners were also forbidden from engaging in any further passenger transportation operations. The order was reportedly issued to keep closed bus operators from simply beginning another curbside bus operation under a new name.

United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated the bus companies were closed in order to save lives on the nation’s roadways. He said the companies were bad actors that put passengers and motorists at risk. Secretary LaHood also advised Congress to pass legislation that would stop shuttered bus carriers from later reopening and allow the Safety Administration to regulate bus ticket sellers and brokers who don’t physically transport passengers. Dan Ronan, a spokesperson for the American Bus Association, applauded the federally mandated shutdowns.

According to federal investigators, each of the 26 carriers employed drivers who did not have a valid commercial driver’s license, failed to administer required driver alcohol and drug tests, and operated despite multiple safety regulation violations. The motor coaches used by the companies were allegedly not regularly inspected for safety hazards or repaired when necessary. Additionally, bus drivers reportedly failed to adhere to federal rest requirements.

The curbside bus investigation began in response to several fatal curbside bus accidents last year. In the United States, an estimated 700 million people travel via motor coach annually. According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 24 commercial bus crashes resulted in 34 deaths and 467 injuries in the U.S. in 2011. If you were involved in an unfortunate bus accident in Texas, it is a good idea to contact a skilled personal injury attorney to help you protect your rights.

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1119802_bus sxchu.jpgPursuant to federal law, commercial vehicles such as motor coaches are required to be inspected at least once per year. The inspections, however, may be performed by the company that operates the vehicle, private garages, or state designated employees. Unfortunately, over half of all states in the U.S. do not specify inspection requirements and leave the matter up to the owner of the vehicle.

On March 14th, 2012, the U.S. Senate passed a bill that would require a federal evaluation of state commercial vehicle inspection programs, but the bill has not moved forward in the House of Representatives. The nation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has stated additional federal oversight of state commercial vehicle inspection programs is not currently necessary. The organization’s former head, John Hill, said the FMCSA simply does not have sufficient funding to begin monitoring state inspection programs.

Highway safety proponents believe there is a lack of oversight for companies that perform bus and other commercial vehicle inspections in many states. In fact, fatal bus crashes in Texas, Illinois and Mississippi recently caused the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to call for better oversight of commercial vehicle safety inspections.

Following a 2008 bus crash that killed 17 people near Sherman, Texas, the NTSB cited a state-certified commercial vehicle inspection shop for passing the motor carrier eight days prior to the accident despite reportedly obvious mechanical and tire defects. The owners of the shop, 5 Minute Inspections, closed the company’s doors a few months later. In May 2010, however, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) approved the owners’ application to open another commercial vehicle inspection business in the same neighborhood. According to state records, the new business is currently in good standing.

A spokesperson for DPS stated the issues raised by the NTSB following the crash did not merit action against 5 Minute Inspections although one of the owners has since been suspended for falsifying commercial vehicle inspection reports. DPS has also recently reorganized the more than 200 employees in its vehicle inspection support program.

Another Texas bus was involved in a fatal crash in Louisiana after striking a semi-truck parked on the side of the road. Although the NTSB stated the bus driver caused the crash, the semi was allegedly in such serious disrepair it never should have been on the roadway to begin with. The president of the trucking company performed the most recent inspection on the semi-truck six months prior to the crash.

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