Tour Bus Accidents and Liability
Chartering a tour bus is an efficient and relatively safe way to transport a large group of people to tourist destinations. But bus accidents do happen, occasionally leading to lawsuits and insurance claims. Various parties can become potential defendants in a lawsuit for bus accident injuries, depending on contractual relationships and terms.
This article provides an overview of how liability is determined, which parties may be sued for damages, and other issues related to bus accidents. See FindLaw's Travel and Aviation section for additional articles and resources, including Cruise Ship Accidents and Liability and Aviation Accidents: Overview.
The Bus as Common Carrier
Buses are considered "common carriers" in the eyes of federal and most state laws. A common carrier is an entity whose business is to transport people or goods from one place to another for compensation. This designation includes tour buses, commercial buses, and school buses; commercial airplanes; cruise ships; taxicabs; and certain trucks. A common carrier must exercise a very high degree of care and diligence with regard to the safety of its passengers. Most successful lawsuits against common carriers result from negligence or willful acts. As with other negligence claims, courts use the "reasonableness" standard.
For example, a reasonably careful bus driver is expected to stop at a reasonably safe place for passengers, obey all traffic laws, and not make dangerous maneuvers. When negligence leads to injuries, the injured party may sue for damages. But what if a drunk driver hits a bus, resulting in injuries to passengers? A court probably would not find the tour bus driver negligent, since a reasonably careful operator could not have foreseen the accident.
Who is Liable for Tour Bus Accidents?
Determining who is liable for a bus accident injury may seem simple at first, but it is not always so clear. There are a host of different entities that could be found liable for a bus accident. It could be the company contracted to provide bus service to a school, the individual driver, even the school district. Multiple parties could be held liable for contributory negligence if they are at least partially to blame for the injury-causing accident.
The determination of liability often gets even more complicated for injuries sustained on a chartered tour bus. The parties typically involved in a tour bus injury lawsuit often include:
- Tour Company: When a tour company enters into a contract with a bus company, it has a duty to hire a company with a clean safety record. When injuries occur on a bus operated by a company cited for multiple safety violations, the tour company could share liability with the owner of the bus. Tour companies that own their bus are held to the same level of liability as bus companies.
- Bus Company: The bus company, which owns the vehicle, must have reasonably safe buses in its fleet; must only hire properly licensed drivers who meet basic requirements; and typically must prove its fitness as a common carrier to other parties in the contract. Even if these criteria are met, a negligent driver exposes the bus company to liability.
- Various Bus Destinations: Tour buses typically stop in several different locations throughout the tour, which means passengers are subject to the conditions at each location. A tourist who slips on an oil slick and breaks her hip after departing a bus may hold the owner of the venue liable for her injuries.
Bus accidents, whether they occur on a chartered tour bus or a yellow school bus, sometimes occur and occasionally are the result of negligence. Consider meeting with a personal injury lawyer if you have additional questions about this often complex area of the law.