Bus lines operating in California are required to follow a strict set of safety regulations including compliance with Federal Transportation Safety Administration requirements and specialized driver’s licensing rules. These regulations are intended to help protect consumers who utilize bus carriers.
Bus lines in the business of transporting the general public are considered common carriers, subject to an elevated standard of care. It is well established in California law that a carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill. (Civ. Code § 2100.) This includes providing vehicles safe and fit for their purpose. (Civ. Code § 2101.) Also, a common carrier must give to passengers all such accommodations as are usual and reasonable, and must treat them with civility, and give them a reasonable degree of attention. (Civ. Code § 2103.)
The elevated standard of care does not apply to buses that are not considered common carriers. Examples include shuttle buses for a corporation’s employees and school buses operated for the sole convenience of the pupils of a particular school. In these cases traditional rules of negligence apply.
Bus accidents are not as frequent as car accidents but the results are often severe. A recent crash on Highway 38 in the City of Yucaipa highlights what can happen when operators shirk their obligations to the public. While it’s not yet clear exactly what caused the fatal wreck in the San Bernardino foothills, Federal records do not paint a reassuring picture of the company involved.
I’ve written before about some of the dangers inherent in riding on California’s narrow mountain roads. Unfortunately, those dangers are by no means limited to motorcycles. In early February a tour bus carrying skiers back home from the Big Bear resort area careened out of control rear-ending a passenger car before rolling into the oncoming lane where it was struck by a light truck. The bus eventually came to rest right side up with the front hanging over a drainage ditch. Eight passengers were killed and many more seriously injured; some were thrown from the rolling bus through shattered windows.
The California Highway Patrol closed Highway 38 for hours while passengers were pulled from the wreckage. Families of the victims scoured area hospitals searching for loved ones; hoping not to hear dreaded news of another death.
A questionable record
The tour bus was operated by Scapadas Magicas, a California LLC. Federal records show that the company wasn’t doing well on the safety front. According to Reuters, the company ranked among the bottom 25% of all United States bus operators because of numerous regulatory violations. During the past two years, the company’s three vehicle fleet was inspected 26 times and cited for 59 maintenance violations including: bald tires, leaking fluids, worn brakes, bad headlights, and power steering problems; not the kind of things you’d expect a bus company to let slide.
After the crash, the driver told police that he thought the brakes had failed; given the company’s record, this isn’t particularly surprising. It is however, unacceptable. To see the graphic results of this accident view the slide show available from the San Bernardino Sun. (Warning, graphic images)
Get the facts
Fortunately, the Federal Transpiration Safety Administration maintains a website with a wealth of information about bus safety, all designed specifically for consumers. Their tip sheet can be found here. If you’re planning a bus trip, you’d be well advised to read the tip sheet and then follow up by checking out the record of any company you’re considering via the Administration’s website.
When the worst happens
If you’re already the victim of a bus accident, don’t wait to get legal help. In all cases, time is of the essence. Evidence must be collected and witnesses interviewed. The longer you wait, the more likely it becomes that critical information will be permanently lost or destroyed. Furthermore a struggling company might become insolvent or even file for bankruptcy, limiting your recovery options. Alternatively, an applicable insurance policy might reach its maximum payout before you file your claim.
Contact me today
If you have been injured in a bus accident, call California bus injury attorney Don Sjaarda at (714) 963-8216 for a consultation.