City Bus Accidents: An Overview

Michael GrossmanJuly 10, 2015 3 minutes

To be frank, accidents involving city buses involve fairly complex legal theories, even more so than accident cases against privately-owned/commercial bus owners. While injury and fatality claims against privately-owned buses are challenging cases primarily because the defendant usually has a lot of resources at their disposal to fight you with, what makes cases against publicly-owned bus drivers complex is that the law protects city and local governments from most injury lawsuits. Fret not, however. A good lawyer can still help you recover considerable compensation from a city government whose bus injured you. It's just important that you understand how the law views these cases in a completely different light.

Sovereign Immunity: The Idea That Government Entities Can Never Be Sued

For the better part of a millennia, legal precedent has held that governments cannot be sued by their own citizens. So, if you go back to case law from say, the early 1900s, you'll find no shortage of injury cases involving people being run over by trolleys and New York City fire brigades, wherein the court stated definitively that no matter how negligent those entities may have been, there's just no legal basis for the victims to sue. Well, throughout the 20th century, states started realizing that this was a bit unfair. And that if the government cannot be sued, then the people whom they hurt are just going to end up becoming wards of the state, and the government will have to pay for their injuries through various programs anyway.

In the interest of creating a fair and balanced justice system, states began adopting a fairly similar set of tort claims laws. For instance, the state of Texas drafted the Texas Tort Claims Act, which was a law that waived sovereign immunity under certain circumstances (government protection from being sued), thereby opening the doors for citizens to see compensation for the harm done to them regardless of who the defendant entity is.

Why does this matter? Well, because city buses are owned and operated by the city. Which is, you guessed it, the government. Consequently, when there's an injury or fatality involving a city bus, victims can sue them, but there are a lot of additional hoops they must jump through. For example, there's an upper limit on the financial exposure that a city may have.

Obstacles in a City Bus Accident Case

The first obstacle one encounters is usually the notice requirement. Most states' tort claims laws require that the victim provide constructive notice to the city, county, etc. that they intend to file a claim against them. Where things get tricky is that there's a deadline for serving this notice of a certain number of days or months after an incident, and that deadline is different for almost every city. So, filing suit for an incident involving a San Antonio city-owned VIA bus has a different deadline than doing so where a city of Dallas DART bus was involved. The law places the responsibility on the injured party or the family of the deceased (or their representation) to do the research of finding the deadline. It's also on them to file the necessary notice before it passes. Of course, it's much easier to retain legal assistance that can keep track of all these deadlines for you and ensure that filings are done on time.

It's been our experience that the second most common obstacle for victims of accidents involving city-owned transportation, is that the courts will find any reason in the world to let the city off the hook for the harm done. You and your lawyer have to bring your A game, or there's every reason to believe that the judge, left to his own discretion, will automatically side with the defendants. This reality makes the defendant bold, and as such, they aren't likely to settle. It's way easier to fight you rather than pay up.

The third obstacle is that there's a practical limit to what the government defendant's worst day in court will look like for them. It varies from state to state, but usually there's a maximum amount required by law that government entities can be required to pay. For example, in Texas, the most a government entity can be required to pay out is $300,000 in damages. Again, it varies from state to state, but the point is, there's only so much they have to pay.

A smart lawyer can litigate this type of case successfully, but it's important for victims to retain someone who's aware of the unique complications they present.