Public Transportation Accidents and Personal Injury Compensation

According to the American Public Transportation Association, in the United States each day more than 30 million people ride on mass transit. Unfortunately, some passengers become injured in public transportation accidents.

People rely on mass transit to carry them to and from work, school, sporting events, shopping, medical treatment, and more. Any individual or business licensed to transport passengers for a fee is known as a common carrier. Common carriers include:

Buses (public, school, tour, etc.)
Water taxis
Movable walkways
Airport shuttles, and more
State and federal laws closely regulate most common carriers. The laws hold carriers to a very high duty of care (obligation) to their passengers. Strict enforcement of the laws forces common carriers to take great measures to avoid injuries to passengers.

Common carriers’ duties of care include:

  • Making entryways and exits safe for passengers (good lighting, absence of obstructions, etc.)
  • Providing security where necessary to ensure the health and safety of passengers
  • Hiring qualified personnel to operate the vehicles
  • Maintaining the vehicles’ engines, motors, and other machinery
  • Monitoring and correcting vehicle design flaws

Common Causes of Mass Transit Injuries

The most common causes of public transportation accidents are:

Collisions with other vehicles or solid objects (guardrails, bridge abutments, etc.) and getting jolted or thrown about the vehicle

Collisions with other vehicles and solid objects often result from the driver’s negligence. Instances of driver negligence include speeding, failing to observe traffic signals, falling asleep at the wheel, faulty vehicle maintenance, intoxication, etc.

Criminal action of another

It’s impossible for any carrier to ensure 100 percent protection of passengers from the criminal acts of others. But carriers must make every reasonable attempt to ensure criminal acts will not occur. This includes taking appropriate security measures like hiring security guards, conducting background checks for all personnel, installing surveillance cameras, etc.)

Slipping and falling

Carriers can’t stop it from raining or snowing, or stop people from spilling their drinks. They can and must have sufficient mechanisms in place to minimize the effects of these events. For example, carriers should know when to de-ice entryways and exits. They should have sufficient personnel to mop up areas where water or other fluids have pooled. They should curtail passenger service when the effects of the weather make transporting passengers dangerous.

Common Injuries on Public Transportation

If you were a passenger and got injured in a public transportation accident, you have the right to compensation for your losses. The most common injuries passengers suffer on public transport are:

  • Whiplash
  • Sprained and torn ligaments
  • Back injuries
  • Lacerations, contusions, and abrasions (Cuts, bruises, and scrapes)

More serious injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Herniated disks
  • Severed limbs
  • Scarring
  • Brain concussions
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Death

Statute of Limitations

If you have injuries from a mass transit accident and want to file a personal injury claim, you must do so within a specific statute of limitations period. The statute of limitations filing period for non-public transportation injuries in most states ranges from one to five years.

This is not so when filing an injury claim arising out of a public transportation accident. The statute of limitations for filing public transport injury claims is sometimes as little as 30 to 60 days!

Tort Claims Act

State and federal governments provide some public transportation. For example, a city usually owns public buses and subways. The local school district may own school buses. Local government airport authorities manage airports. Injury claims against these entities are usually subject to the Tort Claims Act.

Filing an injury claim under the Tort Claims Act is different from filing one against a private person or company. Tort claims require the completion of special forms and compliance with specific time periods. If you hesitate, you may lose your right to compensation.

If you’re considering filing a personal injury claim against a government-owned or managed public transportation authority, you should refer to the specific laws in your state and municipality. If you have questions, you can always contact a personal injury attorney with experience in these types of claims.

Proving Negligence

Public transportation injuries normally occur because of negligence. To be successful in your personal injury claim, you have to produce sufficient evidence the carrier’s negligence was the proximate (legally acceptable) cause of your injuries.

Because the law says public transportation carriers have a very high degree of care (obligation) to passengers, the amount of evidence you need won’t usually be as much as you might need in a private transportation injury claim. Don’t let that stop you from collecting as much evidence as you can.

Here’s a list of evidence most commonly used in public transportation accidents:

  • Photographs of the scene of your injury, taken at the time of your injury and several days after (to see whether the carrier changed the scene)
  • Witness statements
  • Incident or police reports
  • Weather reports
  • Your written notes made at or close to the time of your jury

Duty to Mitigate

To mitigate (moderate) your damages means to avoid actions that might injure you further. It also means to care for your injuries by seeking medical treatment in a timely manner. If you have injuries from riding on public transportation, you must mitigate your damages. Your failure to do so could bar you from recovering compensation or severely limit the amount you do receive.

Here are a couple of examples of mitigation:

  • If you see the part of the entryway or exit to your bus, train, or other vehicle is icy, you have a duty to avoid the ice and enter from a less icy area.
  • If a piece of metal sticking out cut your arm and you failed to have the wound treated promptly, and as a result it became severely infected, you may not get compensation or the amount of compensation you receive will be substantially less.

Personal Injury Attorneys

Many public transportation injury claims don’t require an attorney’s expertise. They’re straightforward and relatively easy to pursue. This is especially true when the injuries are soft tissue. Examples of soft tissue injuries include:

  • Lacerations, contusions and abrasions (cuts, bruises, scrapes)
  • Sprained or torn ligaments or muscles
  • Whiplash
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis

If you hire an attorney for these types of minor claims, after the attorney deducts your medical bills and her fee, you might get very little or even nothing for your troubles. Many attorneys won’t even accept these types of claims. It doesn’t make financial sense for them to do the work for such a small payoff.

Hard injuries, on the other hand, usually require an experienced personal injury attorney. Because of the high amounts of compensation involved in hard injury cases, they are hard-fought. Many require a lawsuit. You don’t want to represent yourself in court against seasoned defense attorneys. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Examples of hard injuries include:

  • Brain concussions
  • Fractures and broken bones
  • Burns and scars
  • Stab or bullet wounds
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Death

In most cases, riding mass transit is a great way to save money and avoid congested roads and highways. The probability of public transportation accidents is quite low when compared to private transportation. With some awareness and common sense, you can probably avoid injuries. In the event you are hurt, there’s a process in place to compensate you.

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