What Happens When Individual Drivers Collide with Public Transit?
May 1, 2014
While it’s not something that happens every day, individual automobiles and public transit vehicles do sometimes collide. When these accidents occur, how are legal responsibilities divided? Of course,we expect both drivers to be held responsible for their share of the blame, but if public transit is concerned, the city is also automatically involved—and that’s where things get complicated.
In a recent story from New York, a woman drove her SUV into a subway car. (Yes, you read that right.) According to the NY Post, the driver of the car was likely propelled over the cement barrier along the side of the road by first driving over a mound of dirt. The car crashed through a fence and landed with its front end grazing the top of a subway car. No one was injured.
Bizarre as it is, this story raises some good questions. In auto accidents where an individual driver collides with a public transit vehicle, how are both parties held responsible?
Where Does Responsibility Fall?
In cases involving individual drivers and public transportation, the immediate assumption is often that the driver of the car must be at fault. Perhaps this is because public transportation vehicles give off an air of safety. (Buses can’t get into accidents, right? They’re buses!)
However, in 2006, over 51,000 bus accidents and 7,000 transit accidents were reported across the US. With numbers like these, it’s impossible to assume that public transportation vehicles and their operators are never at fault. Since most public transportation vehicles lack the basic safety features that cars have(for example, airbags and seat belts), they can be deceivingly dangerous. Additionally, neither public transportation vehicles nor their drivers are without flaws.
One of the trickiest things about getting into an auto accident with a public transportation vehicle (for instance, a bus), is the fact that the operator of that bus is often considered a government entity, not a public citizen. Legally, this can complicate matters. This means that during a lawsuit, you, an individual driver, are likely going up against a government entity.
The City Is Liable in Some Public Transit Cases
For individuals involved in collisions with public transportation vehicles, the good news is, there are many different factors at play. Although some may rush to blame individual drivers for any and all public transportation accidents, both the driver of the public vehicle and the other one involved in the accident can be at fault.
Mechanical failure in buses is not unheard of. Just like in cars and SUVs, buses are at risk of brake failure, steering problems, electrical issues, and a variety of other mechanical problems. Because buses are the property of the city, they should be scheduled for regular maintenance. But if buses or other public transportation vehicles fail to keep up with maintenance checks as they are supposed to, the city will likely bear some of the blame in an accident.
Other questions that could point to the fault of the city include:
- Was the public vehicle improperly loaded or past capacity?
- Was the driver of the vehicle disobeying traffic laws or driving recklessly?
- Was the driver of the vehicle fatigued, under the influence of intoxicants, or otherwise unfit to be operating the vehicle?
Consider Past Action in Public Transit Cases
As the Journal of Public Transportation pointed out in 2007, the number of bus accidents can be lowered simply through the addition of certain safety measures. The report suggests “Emphasis should be placed on developing a warning system with the capability of continuously monitoring the bus surroundings and providing timely alerts to transit operators about crash threats in front and on either side of the bus.”
Admittedly, public transportation authorities are under no obligation to heed advice from the Journal of Public Transportation. Still, information like this is available and suggestions like this can reasonably be implemented, it could be argued that cities are acting negligently in their failure to implement certain safety features.
Additionally, in certain parts of the country, public transportation authorities are severely underfunded, to the detriment of the quality and safety of public transportation.In cities where public transportation authorities are knowingly underfunded, negligence can be argued, and cases can be made against the city in auto accident lawsuits.
Don’t Let Complications Stand in Your Way
Lawsuits following accidents between public transportation vehicles and passenger cars can be extremely complicated. Despite this, it’s important to keep in mind that your rights are still worth defending, even if it means going up against the city. Though it may seem like the odds are automatically stacked against you, there are two sides to every story and countless factors involved in every auto accident. You always have the right to fair treatment.
About the Author:
Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”