In the United States, more than 30 million people utilize the services of public transit to get them where they want or need to be, according to the American Public Transportation Association. And the number continues to grow along with many types of public transportation as more options for travel have become available. According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 617,883 unlinked direct bus trips covering over three million passenger miles during 2015 in Huntsville, Alabama alone.
Public transit helps reduce the number of vehicles out on the road. Which in turns also helps reduce the potential for being part of a car accident, especially for those who commute daily. Millions of people safely use public transit each day. However, while the odds of being in an accident are lower, public transit accidents do occur. And when they do, the results sometimes can be catastrophic with traumatic injuries and even fatalities. Here is what Pitman & Petro, a North Alabama auto accident lawyer wants you to know about your rights for compensation if you recieve injuries in a public transit accident.
What Modes of Transportation Fall Under Public?
Almost any means of transportation where the public pays a fee for its use can be a form of public transit. This includes municipal transit authorities, like Montgomery’s M Transit System, Birmingham’s MAX Transit, Mobile’s the Wave Transit System or Huntsville’s Department of Parking & Public Transit that operates:
- Shuttle buses
- Handi-Ride paratransit services
- CommuteSmart commuter services
Public transit also covers over forms of public transportation including:
- Airport shuttle buses
- School buses
- Air carriers
- Commercial bus lines
- Cruise ships
- Amusement park rides
Duty of Care for Common Carriers
Businesses or individuals that have proper licensing and charge a fee to transport passengers are referred to as common carriers. Further, they have to abide by the strict regulations set through state and federal law. These rules aim to prevent injuries to their passengers, referred to as “duty of care.” This includes, but is not limited to:
- Ensuring that qualified, properly trained and licensed personnel are hired to operate public transportation vehicles.
- Vehicles are properly inspected and maintained, including their motors, engines, and other machinery.
- Vehicle design flaws are continually monitored and corrected as soon as vulnerabilities are found or announced.
- Providing security when necessary to protect the health and safety of their passengers.
- Lastly, ensuring that exits and entryways remain safe for passengers by providing adequate lighting and keeping them free of obstructions and moisture.
Common Causes of Public Transit Accidents
Public transit accidents most commonly various forms of:
Collisions with other vehicles or stationary/solid objects, such as bridge abutments, utility poles, or guardrails can occur, in addition to train derailments. Because of the size and multi-passenger nature of public transit vehicles, passengers can easily find themselves jolted or thrown around the inside of the vehicle. This is because of lack of safety restraints and protective features like the airbags found in most cars. In some instances, the driver or operator of the carrier vehicle might be at fault, but many of these accidents occur because of the negligence of another driver, including:
- Failure to maintain a safe speed
- Reckless or careless driving
- Ignoring traffic signals
- Distracted driving, e.g. texting or talking on phone
- Falling asleep while driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- Failing to properly maintain vehicle
Slips and Falls
Transportation carriers cannot control the weather or protect their riders from their own clumsiness, but they need to have appropriate systems in place to help minimize slip and fall injuries. This includes:
- Having personnel available to immediately mop up areas where water or other fluids have accumulated
- Providing anti-slip mats or all weather carpeting in areas that are prone to wetness
- Keeping up with winter weather information to immediately take action if icy conditions are predicted to keep exits and entryways de-iced
- Curtailing passenger service until dangerous weather conditions pass to ensure safe transportation of passengers
Criminal Acts of Others
It is nearly impossible for carriers to anticipate the actions of others and provide passengers with 100 percent protection from criminal acts. However, they are responsible for having security measures in place to make reasonable attempts to protect their passengers. This includes:
- Maintaining adequate security with trained security guards in terminals
- Conducting thorough background checks on their employees
- Installing security and surveillance cameras in vehicles and in terminals
Important Info About Filing an Injury Claim
If you suffer injury as a passenger on some mode of public transportation, you have a right to pursue compensation for your injuries and losses, including medical expenses or loss of income. Some of the most common injuries that occur in a public transit include:
- Back injuries
- Bruises, scrapes and cuts
In some cases, more serious injuries could occur depending on the severity of the accident, such as:
- Head injuries, including concussions
- Bone fractures
- Herniated disks
- Permanent scarring
- Limb amputations
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
Tort Claims Act Comes into Play with Public Transit
Unlike a personal injury claim that one would make against a private citizen or business that might be negligent in causing an accident, claims related to public transit accidents are much more complicated. As a result, injury claims for public transit under state and federal governments fall under the Tort Claims Act.
If you or a loved one suffers injury in a public transit accident, the Tort Claims Act requires you to complete and submit specific forms that differ from the forms generally filed for other personal injury claims. And you must file these forms within a specific time period with no exceptions. Failure to file these special forms within the specified time limit could exclude you from seeking your right to compensation.
Standard Statute of Limitations Do Not Always Apply
Depending on the municipality, state, or type of public transit accident, the standard statute of limitations might not apply. In some instances, you might have to file a claim for your injuries in as little as 30 or 60 days. To protect your rights for compensation, it is recommended to consult with a North Alabama auto accident lawyer as soon as possible to avoid any potential mistakes or delays in filing legal documents.
Your Responsibility as a Passenger
As a passenger, you are responsible for mitigating your damages to prevent further injury when involved in a public transit accident. This includes seeking immediate medical care for any injuries suffered in an accident. You should also use common sense to avoid injury from hazards you might encounter during your use of public transit, such as avoiding wet or icy areas around terminals.
Injured Party Must Prove Negligence Occurred
Just as you would in a regular personal injury case, you would need to provide sufficient proof that the public transit entity was responsible for your injury because of their negligence. But, because public transit carriers must provide a higher standard of care, the amount of evidence required, and burden of proof is not as much as a standard personal injury case.
However, despite the lower standard of proof, it is always a good idea to provide your North Alabama auto accident lawyer with as much evidence as possible. Evidence that is most commonly helpful in a public transit injury case includes:
- Police or incident reports
- Records of weather conditions at the time of the accident
- Photographs at the scene on the day of the accident depicting your injuries and then several days after the accident
- Statements from witnesses or fellow passengers
- Any written notes you may have taken regarding the accident
You Need an Experienced North Alabama Auto Accident Lawyer on Your Side
Public transit accidents can be serious enough to cause traumatic injuries, and in some cases, fatalities. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an accident, you need a North Alabama auto accident lawyer who has the experience to navigate the special handling of public transit accidents. Call Pitman & Petro Attorneys at Law at (256) 533-5000 to schedule your free consultation. Our office is open Monday through Friday, from 8am to 5pm. However, we are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to take your call. Or we can chat with you anytime via our website’s LiveChat feature. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about any fees unless we win your case.