Accidents occur on the road every day, but do you know how frequently they occur when you sit back and let someone else do the driving? The reality is that you’re usually better off taking public transportation when looking at safety issues, which includes buses and school buses, trains, metro rail, etc. As an example, recent statistics show that riding the bus is nearly 60 times safer than driving in a car. Taking the metro rail or light rail is about 30 times safer than driving in a car, with extremely low fatality rates resulting from accidents. All of this means that with public transportation safety in place, you’re far less likely to be injured when you’re riding with a ‘professional’ driver. Keep in mind that even though fatality rates are extremely low with mass transit, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never be involved in an accident. Even with mass transit and public transportation being perhaps statistically less risky, you still can end up being injured in an accident that results in a severe injury or worse.
Accidents in Florida
Even with stringent mass public transportation safety measures in place, there are still public transportation accidents occurring throughout the Orlando Metropolitan area, Central Florida and the entire State of Florida that result in injuries to passengers. In Florida there is an average of 45 accidents each month that involves a school bus alone. Obviously this is much lower than the annual average number of traffic accidents involving cars and personal vehicles (over 30,000). However, there still always remains the possibility of a serious injury with a public transit accident, just as there is while being a passenger riding in a personal vehicle. Yet when utilizing public transportation systems, you are entirely at the mercy of the driver of that vehicle and always dependent on others to keep the vehicles safe by performing required maintenance and inspections.
As an example, let’s take a look at an accident that occurred in December of 2014. A charter bus that was stopped on the side of the road started rolling forward, resulting in the death of the bus driver (who had actually gotten off of the bus before it started to roll). Although the bus was stopped by a passenger before it could cause further damage or move further into the street and injure others, the fact of the matter is that there was a lack of attention to detail and concern given to overall safety. Were the bus to have caused other accidents or resulted in injuries to others, it would likely have been the responsibility of the bus driver and the bus company to compensate those injured. As a result of documented incidents such as this one, plus the emergence of Social Media to quickly spread the story to numerous people, more and more injured parties are contacting law firms to make personal injury claims against the department of transportation and the operators of mass transit systems.
Another example of an accident involving a bus crash in Florida took place in August of 2016 on Interstate 75 just north of Gainesville in Alachua County. A chartered bus began to exit the interstate and then suddenly cut back across multiple lanes, hitting another charter bus which was unable to avoid it. Both buses were full of passengers who potentially could have been seriously injured. Though luckily in this accident no passengers were seriously injured or killed, the example shows that the potential exists. The point is that the bus driver cut through the interstate without checking for a clearing and was at fault for failing to maintain the safety of the passengers.
The Case of Jerry Cunningham
Although these types of accidents do not occur often, far too frequently the result may be extremely serious. A good example is the case of Jerry Cunningham, a 14-year-old boy who was hit by a Broward County bus in May of 2013. Jerry was simply a teenage boy who was attempting to catch the bus with his mother so he could get to school. When his mother fell, the bus was about to pull away and he ran to catch up to it, putting his hand out to the door. The door closed, however, and the boy (either trapped in the door or holding firmly to the handle depending on different witness accounts) was pulled alongside it before falling beneath and being partially run over, resulting in extremely serious injuries. Jerry’s injuries included traumatic brain injury (he actually was placed in a medically-induced coma for a full month), plus severe internal injuries which resulted in permanent damage and changes to his life. Although thankfully the teenager survived the accident, his injuries have left him facing lifelong pain, according to medical experts. In addition to his suffering, the estimated medical bills totaled over $640,000 according to the county. The family sued Broward County (as the bus was owned by the county itself) and was able to reach a settlement directly with them for a total of $850,000.
Broward County and Beyond
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only bus accident that has occurred within Broward County. In 2013 alone Broward County buses were involved in 478 documented accidents (an average of nine every week!). The Broward Department of Public Transportation found that one in four of the total accidents resulted from bus drivers’ mistakes and were deemed “preventable’’. This particular county’s bus system has been the recipient of numerous lawsuits for accidents documented to being caused by bus driver negligence. These incidents include buses hitting moving vehicles, stationary vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Although Broward County has received perhaps the most attention in regards to county bus accidents, other counties also experience similar lawsuits due to the negligence of bus drivers. In 2010 for example, Palm Beach County settled a total of 20 crash-related claims and lawsuits. In the same year (2010) Miami-Dade spent an estimated $2,000,000 to settle bus related cases in their county. The reality is that accidents and crashes are a problem that plague mass transit systems in all counties throughout Florida. The reason is actually very simple: Buses are on the roads every day and when these large vehicles (some weighing in at over 40,000 pounds) hits another vehicle or a human being, the result can be catastrophic.
School Bus Accidents
One area of public transportation that warrants further discussion are public school buses. From data released by the FLHSMV (Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles) there was an increased number of accidents involving school buses in 19 Florida counties between 2012 – 2016. During that period there were a total of 2,698 accidents across the State of Florida that involved a school bus. The results revealed a total of almost 1,300 reported injuries, with 3 incidents of over forty students injured in each “crash”. Just for examples, Collier County saw an increase of over 200% in school bus related accidents, while Miami-Dade saw a rise from 444 to an astounding 537 during just 2014 and 2015 alone. Although it did not come as a surprise, the greatest concentration of accidents per bus was seen in Miami, Orlando, Tampa and the Jacksonville metropolitan areas of Florida. Accident numbers obviously vary between school districts for a multitude of reasons, but the FLHSMV noted that the rise in in school bus related accidents will continue due to an ever increasing number of students, buses, new bus routes being added and the obvious fact that are more new bus drivers being hired. Lastly, it is important to note that all school bus accidents do not even involve another vehicle. One such incident tragically involved the death of an 11 year old girl who was killed while walking to her bus stop several years ago.
What You Can Do
Accidents involving buses in Florida present a complicated and somewhat complex process in regards to filing lawsuits. Most involve proof of driver negligence, whether the bus driver or a 3rd party driver was at fault. Additionally, product liability (such as defective or poorly maintained vehicles) can be involved in a claim. The potential parties that may be liable include (but are not limited to):
– The driver of the bus
– A negligent 3rd party driver
– The bus owner (private or governmental)
– Manufacturer of the bus (and bus parts)
– The bus maintenance company
– The city or county where the accident occurred
There are several other important considerations regarding bus accidents in Florida. A bus that is owned, maintained &/or operated by a government entity may be a situation where there is a limit on compensation. The government is protected from liability in some instances by Sovereign Immunity, which can result in no recovery in certain legal cases. In Florida, however, the sovereign immunity has been waived in certain instances. This means that although there may be liability, there are rules and limits in place regarding compensation. In cases seeking damages that exceed $200,000 as an example, multiple defendants may be required.
It is important to note that Florida has very strict deadlines and rules that must be adhered to, and engaging an experienced attorney is recommended to ensure that you do not lose your ability to recover any damages that you are entitled to. You may be entitled to compensation for:
– Lost wages
– Pain and suffering
– Medical expenses
– Vocational services
– Property damage
– Punitive damages
– Ongoing medical and rehabilitation costs
At the Law Office of Mark A. Risi we pride ourselves in providing quality and aggressive legal representation. We take pride in providing personal service to our clients in all personal injury cases in Orlando, Central Florida and throughout the state of Florida. For an absolutely free consultation with no risk or obligation, call us now at (407) 423-1313 or fill out our Personal Injury Case Evaluation Form. We would be honored to work for you to obtain the best settlement possible.