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Car-Bus Collision

Car-Bus Collisions in Boston

Most car accidents in Boston involved vehicles owned by private parties. However, our bus accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC routinely handle cases where our clients were injured due to the fault of a bus driver.

While all car accidents can cause serious personal injury or even death, accidents involving commercial buses often do significantly more damage than accidents only involving passenger cars. The main reason for this is the weight of a bus. Typical city buses operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transpiration Authority (MBTA or the “T”), such as the New Flyer Industries XN40 buses, which are slated to replace much of the aging fleet, are 40 feet long and weigh approximately 28,500 pounds when not carrying any passengers.

This is an extremely heavy commercial motor vehicle that far outweighs the standard passenger car. In the case of a long-distance tour bus, they can be several feet longer and weigh as much as 50,000 pounds. This tremendous amount of weight means it takes much longer to stop than a passenger car. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, it can take as much as two football fields to fully stop a bus traveling on a highway under optimal conditions.

It is not hard to see how a driver might become careless and follow much more closely than the roughly 200 yards it will take that vehicle to stop. This means that if the car in front of the bus must come to an abrupt stop, a bus traveling too close may very well slam into the car, resulting in serious personal injury or death.

Is a Bus-Car Accident the Same as a “Typical Car Accident?”

The answer to this is both yes and no. As you can discuss with your Boston bus accident lawyer, both cases will involve the standard negligence cause of action used in a more typical car accident lawsuit. Those elements are as follows:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
    1. Proximate Cause
    2. Actual Cause
  4. Damages

The duty refers to the duty of care a motorist owes to others on the roads or sidewalks of the commonwealth. This duty is imposed by law as outlined in the Standardized Civil Jury Instructions for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Specifically, in a car accident case, the driver will be held to the standard of care of acting a like a reasonable and prudent person in the same or similar situation. However, a bus driver requires a special license with special endorsements. He or she must have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) that is at least Class B with a passenger and airbrakes endorsement. This means that the defendant will be held to the standard of a reasonable and prudent bus driver in the same or similar circumstances. This makes sense, because, while a car driver might need the same distance as the car in front of it to stop, the bus driver would need a much greater distance and thus cannot follow as closely.

Who Owns the Bus?

Another important aspect of these cases is that the strength or your case and the challenges involved will often depend on who or what agency owns the bus. For example, if you are driving in Boston and are hit by a coach bus (often called an over the road or “OTR” bus), there is a good chance it is owned by a transportation company that is not affiliated with a local or state government. In these cases, your experienced Boston bus accident lawyer will be dealing with a private insurance company, and things will work much like a typical car accident case.

However, it should be noted that there are coach buses that are owned by local, state, or federal government agencies. On occasion, we see coach buses that are owed by the Department of Defense transporting new recruits. We may see a bus owned by the Bureau of Prisons transporting prisoners, or a bus owned by any other federal agency.

The reason this is important is because, when the government owns a bus, the agency will often to try to avoid or limit liability using what is known as the doctrine of sovereign immunity. When a government agency is performing a service, and that performance results in serious personal injury or death, they will attempt to say that they were performing an essential government interest and therefore should be protected from liability. This does not mean you do not have a case, but it does mean that you should seek a consultation with an experienced bus accident lawyer in Boston who has handled cases like these in the past. One possible defense to this assertion is arguing that the government was not engaged in a sovereign capacity but rather a proprietary activity at the time of the bus-car accident.

In the city of Boston, there is a good chance that MBTA owns the bus. If a T bus hits you, the agency will also try to assert sovereign immunity. However, that may not be the most important aspect of a typical case. As outlined in Chapter 258 of the Massachusetts General Laws entitled Municipal Tort Liability, a plaintiff must present a claim in writing to the agency within two years of the date of the accident. While this may not seem like a problem, numerous disputes have arisen on this point over the years, and the court can be extremely strict when making a determination on this issue, as was evident in a recent case from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which is our state supreme court.

It is also important to keep in mind that many of these same issues will apply when a passenger is seriously injured or even killed as a result of the negligence of the bus operator. In addition to the presentment requirement, which requires actual notice, the MTBA may also attempt to assert that it is limited to paying no more than $100,000 per plaintiff. This is not a per-claim limit, as we typically see with private insurance companies.

Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.

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