Six people were injured in an Amtrak passenger bus crash in Santa Barbara County earlier this month. According to reports, the bus was traveling southbound on the 101 when it began to drift off the road. The vehicle veered into the shoulder, struck a tree, and rolled down a large dirt drainage pipe before flipping on its side. The Amtrak bus driver was arrested shortly after the accident on suspicion of driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
The six accident victims expected that they’d make it to Los Angeles safely and in one piece. They trusted that Amtrak and the driver would do everything possible to keep them safe. That trust was violated. As a result, the victims may file lawsuits to pursue compensation for their injuries.
Most personal injury lawsuits, especially those involving traffic accidents, are based on negligence. Negligence occurs when one person owes a duty of care to another, but fails to uphold it. So, the bus crash victims will have to prove:
What is the duty of care that was owed to the bus passengers? Buses are considered to be common carriers in the state of California. Common carriers are businesses that transport people from one place to another in exchange for a fee. Since common carriers take responsibility for so many people, they’re held to heightened standards of care.
California law requires buses and other common carriers to do “all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances to avoid harm to passengers.”
Simply put, common carriers must exercise more care than your typical driver. When the duty of care is heightened, it’s easier to breach. This can make it easier for injured passengers to prove negligence and recover compensation.
California embraces the legal theory of comparative fault. This basically means that:
In other words, liability can be allocated amongst anyone who causes an accident. The more you contribute to an accident, the more you’ll be on the hook for damages. The bus accident victims can pursue compensation from anyone who played a part in causing their injuries.
Bus Driver: The Amtrak bus driver had a duty to use “the highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person” while transporting passengers. However, it’s believed that the driver was under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the accident. Driving under the influence would certainly be a breach of this duty of care.
Amtrak: Employers have a duty to hire and train employees that are capable of doing the job. Here, Amtrak employed a driver who chose to get behind the wheel while impaired. Amtrak could potentially be vicariously responsible for harm caused by their employee on the job. The accident victims would have to prove that the bus driver was acting within the scope of her employment when they were injured.
Bus Manufacturer: While it’s believed that the driver was impaired, the bus the accident is still being investigated. It’s possible that more than one factor contributed to the crash. If it turns out that the bus itself was defective, the company that designed, manufactured, or marketed the vehicle could be liable for the victims’ damages.
Other Drivers: Again, anyone who contributes to an accident can be responsible for damages. If an investigation shows that another driver was somehow involved in causing the accident, they can be held accountable for a percentage of the damages. For example, let’s say that the driver of a passenger vehicle swerved in front of the bus. The bus driver became startled and lost control of the large vehicle. The driver of the passenger vehicle may not be fully to blame, but they do probably share fault. The bus accident victims could pursue compensation from that negligent driver.
Filing a lawsuit can allow the bus crash victims to recover damages for their physical, emotional, and/or financial injuries. This can include compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, and disability. Working with an experienced personal injury attorney will increase the likelihood of getting the money they need.
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