Representing Victims of Tour Bus Accidents
Did you know that aside from St. Louis’s famous Gateway Arch, the city is home to dozens of nationally recognized landmarks? The historic Old Courthouse, the Old Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, Bissell Water Tower, and Christ Church Cathedral, just to name a few. Tourists flock to Busch Stadium to see Cardinals baseball and to the Enterprise Center for St. Louis Blues hockey, or for dining and entertainment in the Central West End or Downtown. Many large groups visit the Science Center, City Museum, or the myriad of attractions in Forest Park, while many others thrill to the rides at Six Flags St. Louis.
It’s estimated that St. Louis draws almost 26 million visitors each year and that it offers more free tourist attractions in the United States than anywhere but our nation’s capital—like the acclaimed St. Louis Zoo. With so much to see at low cost to tourists, visitors and hosts often take advantage of St. Louis’ many sightseeing buses or trolley tours. Private, for-profit touring companies primarily offer these bus tours, and they’re often aggressively marketed to visitors.
Whether you’re touring Market Street or Forest Park, the last thing you expect is a tour bus crash. Out-of-town visitors injured after a Missouri tour bus accident may not know where to start. At The Cagle Law Firm, our experienced Missouri bus accident attorneys are here to help. You don’t have to live in Missouri to take advantage of our free, no-risk personal injury consultation. If you were negligently injured in this state, you have a right to seek compensation. Call our dedicated St. Louis personal injury attorneys at (314) 276-1681 or contact us online today.
Dangerous Bus Driving Behaviors
Like large trucks, bus drivers need a special (commercial) license to operate tour buses. The dangers inherent in operating large commercial vehicles, including blind spots, rollover potential, wide turns, difficulty braking, tire wear, and height restrictions, all require additional attention while driving. Bus drivers are also responsible for the many lives on board, and bus accidents often cause extensive damage to smaller vehicles. An SUV rollover accident may injure three, but a tour bus rollover accident may injure 70. Commercial drivers are held to a slightly higher standard as they drive much larger vehicles that can result in serious crashes and fatalities. Commercial drivers are expected to have more training and be more skilled in operating large vehicles.
After a fatal bus accident, New York authorities studied the most common dangerous bus driving behaviors in cities. These included:
- Reckless driving (going at least 15 miles over the speed limit)
- Failing to obey traffic control devices (red lights and stop signs)
- Using a cell phone while driving
- Violating hours of service limits
- Driver impairment
- Bus maintenance failures
In addition to these behaviors, distracted driving is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents in the United States. Distracted driving is defined as any behavior that takes a driver’s mind, hands, or eyes off the road. Therefore, tour bus drivers have an especially difficult job. They must be aware of local landmarks while listening to guided tours and passenger questions all while operating a large bus, avoiding prohibited roadways, and adhering to Missouri traffic laws. In addition, most bus tours are strictly scheduled throughout the day. Tour bus drivers may speed to make the next appointment or suffer fatigue on a busy tourist weekend. These two factors may lead to serious tour bus accidents in St. Louis.
Federal Safety Regulations Governing Tour Buses
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the commercial motor vehicle industry to prevent injuries on American roadways. These regulations apply to most commercial buses, including tour buses. If a tour bus driver or company violates FMCSA regulations or Missouri traffic laws, it may be grounds for recovering compensation for injuries after a tour bus accident. The following are a few examples of the FMCSA regulations applicable to commercial tour bus operations:
- Commercial driver licensing (CDL): Bus drivers suffering from hearing loss, vision loss, seizure disorders, and diabetes are generally disqualified from obtaining a CDL. They may apply for an exception, but these disqualifying medical conditions may endanger passengers. Unfortunately, many of these conditions develop as bus drivers’ age, and they may already have a CDL. Licensed bus drivers guilty of certain criminal or traffic violations or who have their private license suspended are also prohibited from operating a tour bus.
- Drug and alcohol testing: Commercial bus drivers are subject to strict drug and alcohol testing, especially after a tour bus accident. Your personal injury attorney has a right to request these tests to determine whether your bus driver was impaired.
- Hours of service regulations: In response to the serious accidents caused by commercial driver fatigue, all commercial drivers are subject to driving limitations. Hours of service violations are common in the commercial driving industry, as less work often means less pay. As well, busing transportation companies may put unreasonable work requirements on their drivers. The specific regulations include mandatory rest breaks, a limitation on daily and weekly driving hours, necessary sleep windows, required off-duty hours, and weather restrictions. Bus drivers are legally required to keep a logbook of service hours and rest breaks to ensure compliance with these regulations. In many commercial vehicles, there is an electronic recording device often referred to as the “black box.” Your tour bus accident attorney is familiar with the hours of service requirements and all FMCSA criteria and will request this log be entered into evidence. Your attorney should also be familiar with the legal process to gain access to the electronic recorder and have it analyzed by an expert. When the recorders are available, we find them very helpful in determining the events that led up to an injury crash.
- Equipment regulations: Due to the weight of certain commercial vehicles, bus tires and brakes are subject to substantial wear. Tour bus companies are required to perform regular tire and equipment inspections and repairs to prevent mechanical failures. Bus accidents may result from tire blowouts, balding tires, and insufficient brake time. Buses that violate maximum weight requirements endanger passengers by straining equipment.
- Passenger safety regulations: Seating, seatbelt, fire, and speed regulations apply to many tour buses. Buses are subject to stringent passenger safety regulations, which may be violated in the fast-paced commercial bus tour industry. As paying customers, tour bus passengers are owed the highest duty of care for their safety.
- Registration and insurance requirements: Any tour bus that operates across state lines is generally required to register with the FMCSA. Further, tour buses that carry more than 16 passengers must have at least $5 million in liability insurance to compensate those injured in a tour bus accident.
In addition to evidence of negligent driving in violation of Missouri vehicle and traffic laws, St. Louis tour bus crash lawyers will carefully review accident details for evidence of an FMCSA violation. They may request a bus driver’s commercial license, logbook, post-accident drug testing results, and medical history. A review of the tour bus company’s maintenance records and passenger data may also reveal safety violations. As well, if electronic recorders are installed, your attorney will want to access that information. If these violations resulted in a tour bus accident, you may have a strong case for personal injury compensation.
Personal Injuries Commonly Suffered in Tour Bus Crashes
Some tour buses are unique in that many passengers are exposed to the open air or standing during the tour. They may reach out windows to take pictures or otherwise distract themselves from the ride itself. This gives tourists less time to brace themselves before a serious tour bus crash. The following are some injuries commonly suffered after a Missouri tour bus accident:
- Sprains and strains
- Knee damage
- Neck and back damage
- Facial lacerations
- Shoulder dislocations, and
- Foreign body impalements.
The nature of the tour bus accident often dictates the type of injuries tourists suffer. If the bus rear-ended another vehicle or stopped short, many passengers may suffer whiplash, facial damage, back pain, or knee strains. If the bus went through the wrong tunnel, crushing the sides or roof of the vehicle, this often causes traumatic impalements, blunt force injuries, and lacerations from broken glass. Tourists in open-air tour buses may suffer serious traumatic brain injuries or fractures after a tour bus crash. Further, injured tourists may be confined to a hospital or prevented from traveling. This can lead to unexpected medical bills, out-of-state insurance issues, and additional travel expenses.
Liability for Tour Bus Crashes
It’s not uncommon in the tour bus industry to find ownership discrepancies between the touring company, transportation company, and bus owner. They’re seldom one and the same. You may purchase tickets from a touring company that hires a transportation company to then charter tour buses owned by an independent contractor. Accordingly, your tour bus driver may not be an employee of the actual touring company. This can complicate vicarious liability claims whereby an employer may be held liable for the negligent actions of an employee.
In such cases, an experienced St. Louis personal injury attorney will likely make a claim against the touring company, tour bus driver, tour bus owner, and any party, such as another driver, who negligently caused the accident. Each entity may have its own insurance provider, and each is entitled to discovery of evidence related to your personal injury claims. For this reason, recovering for personal injuries after a tour bus crash often involves complex liability determinations, as each defendant may blame the other for the crash. An expert bus crash attorney can assist you in discovering the correct liable parties and look for all available coverage avenues. While you cannot seek a double recovery, more than one party may be liable for your personal injuries and due to coverage limits, it may be critical for your attorney to make claims against all insurance companies. For example, the bus company may be liable for failed maintenance, the driver may be liable for reckless driving, and the tour company may be liable for overloading the bus. Your attorney will review and investigate all potential liable parties and proceed appropriately.
Compensation Available After a St. Louis Tour Bus Crash
Tour bus owners are required to carry millions of dollars in liability insurance. As such, most compensation comes from insurance settlements. This may be against one or multiple parties depending on the evidence. Compensation may be available for the following:
- Medical bills, including hospital, ambulance, nursing, and physicians’ bills
- Pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, i.e., pain medication and crutches
- Present and future lost wages
- Lost fringe benefits, such as lost health insurance
- Lost career and business opportunities
- Reimbursement for student expenses
- Personal property damage, such as loss of an expensive camera
- Pain and suffering
- Extreme mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Transportation expenses
- Loss of spousal services, and
- Expenses for out-of-state lodging and care.
The above damages are called compensatory damages because they compensate injured claimants for direct and future losses caused by the accident. Another type of damages is called punitive damages. These damages are paid to punish a party for grossly negligent, reckless, or intentionally tortious conduct. The goal is to deter the offender and other parties for engaging in behaviors that are dangerous to their customers. Punitive damages are seldom awarded in bus accident cases; however, there are exceptions. Because you’re paying for a tour, a tour bus company that intentionally overloads a bus to make money, refuses to maintain the bus, or employs a bus driver knowing he or she doesn’t have a CDL, may be subject to punitive damages. Again, an expert bus tour crash attorney will examine every portion of the claim and determine if punitive damages are even an option.
Mass Casualty Insurance Claims
Tour bus companies are required to carry high levels of personal injury insurance because they transport multiple individuals at one time. This means a single bus accident may result in dozens of serious injuries or even fatalities. Every injured claimant may demand payment from the bus’s insurance company, but there is typically a policy limit. For example, if ten claimants each suffer $1,000,000 in damages but the policy limit is $5,000,000, the insurance company may only be required to settle claims up to the policy limit. It is essential in mass casualty bus crashes to contact a qualified personal injury attorney immediately after the accident. Seriously injured claimants who have legal representation are usually prioritized over individuals without attorneys. While it seems it ought to be fairly, simple, it is not, and hiring an attorney is crucial to receiving fair compensation.
Choosing a Venue after a Missouri Bus or Trolley Crash
You shouldn’t be concerned if you don’t live in Missouri after a St. Louis bus accident. You’re no less entitled to compensation than a St. Louis resident. A Missouri personal injury attorney can still represent you in Missouri courts. The venue or location of your case usually depends on where the accident occurred. Sometimes, it’s easier to file litigation in the area the accident occurred because local attorneys can more easily obtain evidence. Judges and juries will also be more familiar with local streets and tour bus companies, which can lend credibility to your personal injury claims and accelerate the litigation process.
Contact a St. Louis Tour Bus Accident Lawyer Immediately After your Bus Crash
You probably have a lot of questions after a Missouri tour bus crash, and we are here to help with no out-of-pocket cost to you. Call The Cagle Law Firm’s dedicated St. Louis personal injury attorneys at (314) 276-1681 or contact us online today to schedule your free, no-risk tour bus accident consultation.