The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
Special Issues in Buffalo, Minnesota Bus Crashes
September 4, 2018
Between public bus services and tour bus services, many of these large vehicles pass through Wright County on a daily basis. These passengers put all their trust in the drivers who operate the buses, the mechanics who make sure they are road-worthy, and the other people that work to make these trips successful. Because of that trust, there are some special duty and liability issues in this area, as outlined below.
Unfortunately, not all these trips are safe, and so Buffalo, MN lawyers deal with many bus crash cases. These incidents usually cause catastrophic injuries, so the compensation is usually substantial.
That compensation usually includes damages for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well. Victim/plaintiffs are entitled to these damages if there is clear and convincing evidence of intentional disregard for the safety or property of other people.
Enhanced Legal Duty
Bus drivers, Uber drivers, taxi drivers, and other operators who transport people for money are common carriers in Minnesota. In the words of one landmark court decision, every common carrier has “a duty to use the highest degree of care for the safety of its passengers.” In fact, Minnesota judges have consistently held that common carriers are all but insurers of safe conduct.
This duty has at least two components. First, drivers must be extra cautious on the road. For example, most noncommercial drivers may proceed through intersections if they have green lights. But arguably, commercial carriers must pause and make sure the way is clear before they move forward. The same thing applies with regard to vehicle speed, especially since large buses are so hard to stop.
Second, drivers or other company employees must ensure that the passenger area is safe. They must clean up wet spots on floors and change burned-out light bulbs. They must also make sure that altercations between passengers do not become violent. That’s especially important in party bus trips wherein many of the passengers are at least mildly intoxicated.
The higher duty makes it easier for Buffalo, MN lawyers to establish liability, as outlined below. The higher standard of conduct also means that Wright County jurors often award higher damages in these cases.
How Buffalo, MN Lawyers Establish Liability
Fatigue is one of the leading causes of Buffalo bus crashes. In fact, drowsy drivers may cause about 40 percent of these wrecks. While there is no Breathalyzer test for fatigue, there are a number of ways to establish drowsiness in court:
Witness Accounts: Passengers may see drivers stare off into space or even nod odd briefly. They may also overhear drivers make statements about their lack of sleep. What witnesses see is nearly always admissible in court. The things they overhear may be admissible in some cases.
Driver Statements: Even if they are not recorded in the police accident report, Buffalo, MN lawyers may be able to admit statements like “I’m sleepy” because of an exception to the hearsay rule.
Time of Day: Both tour and interstate buses often operate late at night or early in the morning. Everyone has a circadian rhythm. So, most people are naturally sleepy at these hours, no matter how much rest they got the night before. This effect is even more pronounced if the driver recently changed shifts.
Electronic Logging Devices: The trucking industry fought the ELD mandate tooth and nail. But it finally took effect in the spring of 2018. These gadgets automatically record hours of service. They are essentially tamper-proof and connected to the vehicle’s ignition. As such, they provide basically foolproof information about hours of service compliance.
To establish liability, Buffalo, MN lawyers must show either a violation of a safety rule or a lack of care. The first three bullets above all concern a lack of care. The fourth relates to a violation of the HOS requirement, which is negligence per se in Minnesota.
Damages Available in Bus Crash Cases
When a busload of passengers crashes, the injuries are usually widespread and catastrophic. The victims usually have no warning, and the vehicles usually have no seatbelts or airbags. In particularly severe cases, damages sometimes run into the millions of dollars. Under the respondeat superior rule, the bus owner is vicariously liable for these damages if the driver was:
An Employee: Almost all bus drivers are “employees” in this context because the bus company controls them to some extent. Even unpaid volunteers are usually employees under this broad standard.
Acting Within the Scope of Employment: Any activity which benefits the employer in any way is within the scope of employment. That could include driving an empty bus back to the garage.
Minnesota is a modified joint and several liability state. So, if there are multiple responsible parties, Wright County judges usually apportion damages based on the percentage of fault.
Call Today To Speak With A Lawyer in Buffalo, MN Today From Carlson & Jones
Bus crashes are tragic, but justice and compensation are both available. For a free consultation with experienced Buffalo, MN lawyers, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We have offices located throughout the state.
215 East Highway 55
Buffalo, MN 55313
Toll Free: (855) 663-7423
Phone: (612) 800-8057