What happens if I’m injured in a bus collision?

If you’re the victim of an accident involving a bus, whether it’s a school bus, commercial bus, or a public transport bus, the circumstances are much different than if you were involved a collision with a private passenger car. If you (or your child) is injured by a bus operated by a school district, a county, or other governmental agency (e.g., PAT, SEPTA), your rights may be limited by statute in Pennsylvania. It is very important to handle your claim correctly from the start in order to avoid losing your rights to pursue a claim.

There are many factors that determine how, and whether, you can pursue a claim following a bus collision. If you are injured in a collision caused by a bus driver, either as a passenger, driver, or pedestrian, the type of bus involved plays a significant role in determining how your claim will proceed. Any bus that is operated by a governmental entity, whether it be the state, a county, a municipality, an agency, or a school district, may be protected by a principle of immunity. The state, and any agency thereof, is considered to be a sovereign entity under the law. In Pennsylvania, this extends to agencies like Port Authority in Pittsburgh and SEPTA in the Philadelphia region. These entities are protected by what is known as “sovereign immunity.” Other county, municipal, and political entities (such as school districts), are considered political subdivisions of the government. These entities are protected by what is known as “governmental immunity.”

Both types of entities are afforded immunity under Pennsylvania law – meaning they cannot be sued or subject to claims unless an exception exists to the immunity. There is an exception in Pennsylvania for both sovereign and governmental entities based on the negligent operation of a motor vehicle, which includes a bus. However, the statutory provisions are very specific and must be met in order for a claim to be viable. There has been a lot of litigation over the years as to what constitutes “operation” of a motor vehicle for purposes of immunity, and what types of conduct must be proven to establish liability. Because of the complexity of these types of claims, it is best to contact a lawyer right away, even before speaking to the police if possible, to ensure that your statements are not used to defeat the exception to the immunity. If there is no exception to immunity, there is very little hope of successfully pursuing a claim against an immune entity.

There are special rules that apply to claims made against political and sovereign entities under these statutes. One of the most significant differences is that you must notify the entity within six months of the date of the injury that you intend to pursue a claim. Your claim is still subject to the two year statute of limitations for motor vehicle collisions, but if you fail to provide the required notice under the statute, your claim may be subject to dismissal unless you can show good cause for your failure to comply. Another key factor is that your claim is subject to the cap on damages applying to sovereign/governmental claims. No matter how badly you are injured, a Commonwealth/sovereign entity can never be liable to pay you, or any one person, more than $250,000. A political/governmental entity can never be liable to pay you, or any one person, more than $500,000. The statutes controlling sovereign and governmental entities are not identical. There are more limitations on damages in the governmental immunity statute, including a limitation on pain and suffering damages. In addition to the $500,000 cap on damages that applies generally to a claim, no claimant is permitted to claim damages for pain and suffering against a governmental entity unless that person has suffered a permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement, or permanent dismemberment.

Because of the immunity issues involved in cases involving public or school transportation, if you or your family member has been injured in a case involving a bus, it is very important to contact an experienced personal injury attorney at once. For a free consultation regarding your case, please contact Erin K. Rudert of KM&A at 412-626-5590 or erin@lawkm.com.