There have been a rash of motor vehicle accidents in Ohio involving buses lately. There have been two rollovers recently and also some strange accidents involving bus drivers riding off while dragging a passenger down the road. Rules and regulations pertaining to bus accidents are more complicated than what apply to other motor vehicles.
In general, buses are considered to be “common carriers.” The common carrier/passenger relationship arises once a person goes to a designated place the common carrier takes action to accept the person as a passenger. A common carrier of passengers has an obligation to exercise the highest degree of care to afford its passengers opportunity to alight in a reasonably safe place. However, the relation of carrier and passenger terminates when the passenger has been discharged safely upon the street, at which time the common carrier‘s heightened duty of care ceases.
When traveling, common carriers also owe the highest duty of care. However, under Ohio law, the bus operator must be belted but not the passengers. Many injuries in buses occur as a result of passengers and their belongings being flung about the interior. Buses are also subject to safety regulations, including safety inspections, promulgated by the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. Likewise, bus drivers are subject to special screening and licensure.
Some buses are owned and operated by the State of Ohio, including some university buses and buses at correctional facilities. These buses may be subject to rules and regulation promulgated by the individual institution. Claims brought against the State of Ohio must be brought in the Court of Claims located in Columbus. Immunity statutes govern what damages may be collected against State-owned bus drivers. Likewise, bus lines owned by municipalities, like RTA, TARTA, SORTA, COTA, WRTA and Akron Metro, are subject to immunity laws that reduce the available damages in some instances. In some circumstances, an injured party may be able to make up for the damages lost to immunity provisions by turning to their own uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage.
Federal law may also apply to bus lines that operate on an interstate basis. In fact, a bus line that resides in another State besides Ohio may only be subject to suit in federal court (as opposed the county court of common pleas where the accident occurred).
Motor vehicle accidents have been made unnecessarily complicated by unwarranted tort reform laws, ever-changing insurance laws and a cottage industry of medical examiners who are willing to pronounce the dead “fit-and-able to work” (for the right fee, of course). Add the complexities of various federal, State, local and regulatory body rules and regulations to the mix, and you can see that bus accidents can make for very complex litigation.