Personal Injury Compensation Claims relating to Bus Accidents
I have dealt with many successful compensation claims relating to bus accidents. Bus accidents arise for a number of reasons. In many cases, a bus driver won’t be responsible for the accident and the claim has to be brought against the driver of another vehicle, for example, where a van or car pulled out of a minor road into the path of a bus, a vehicle changed lanes abruptly and caused the bus driver to apply emergency braking, where a vehicle pulls out from a parked position into the path of the bus, or other cases where a vehicle collides with the bus. Buses are not fitted with seatbelts, therefore a minor impact or the application of emergency braking can often result in passengers being thrown from their seats onto the floor or colliding with grab-rails or other seats. Where the accident is caused by the dangerous driving of an unidentified driver, for example, a vehicle that pulls out of a side road into the path of the bus causing the application of emergency braking, a claim can be brought against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau under the Untraced Drivers Scheme. In most other cases, the claim will be brought against the driver’s insurers, where the driver can be identified, but even if the driver doesn’t have insurance, a compensation claim can still be brought against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau under the Traced Drivers Scheme where the identity of the uninsured driver can be established.
Where the bus driver is responsible for the accident, a compensation claim can be brought against the company that employed the bus driver as the driver’s employers are vicariously liable for any accidents caused by drivers in the course of their employment. I have dealt with a number of successful compensation claims where passengers have been injured whilst walking down the stairs of a double-decker bus when the driver stops abruptly at a bus-stop causing passengers to be thrown down the stairs, or where drivers have failed to allow all of the passengers to descend from the upper deck of the bus before moving off. I have also dealt with successful claims where a driver has failed to activate the electronically operated access step to the bus which should be used when disabled or elderly passengers are boarding a bus and cases where passengers have been injured by the electric doors when boarding or exiting a bus. I have recovered compensation for a number of passengers who have been injured immediately after boarding the bus when the driver has driven away from the bus-stop before allowing them to take their seats. It should however be remembered that bus drivers are not under an obligation to allow all passengers to take their seats before driving off from a bus-stop. In the case of Phillips-Turner v Reading Transport Limited , the claimant was injured after boarding the bus. She was walking from the entrance doors towards a seat at the rear of the bus when the bus left the bus-stop. The claimant was injured by the motion of the bus but her claim was dismissed as the court held that the driver did not have a duty to wait for all passengers to take their seats where safety supports ie grab-rails were provided on the bus. The commentary relating to this case notes that different considerations may apply to passengers who were elderly or infirm, and that is certainly my experience. In the case of Phillips, the claimant was a fit, 63 year old and the court took the view that she could have held onto numerous grab-rail supports within the bus which would have prevented her from falling. In the case of Glarvey v Arriva North West Ltd  the claimant was 72 years old at the time of the accident but he was, it appears, physically fit and was carrying two bags of shopping with him at the time. The accident happened as he was trying to sit down after the bus had left a bus-stop, the bus pulled away with a sudden jerk resulting in him being thrown to the floor. In this case, the court held that the driver wasn’t required to wait until passengers were safely seated as that was too high a duty to impose and would unnecessarily slow down the bus service, although it was noted in the case summary, that the duty would be higher in respect of vulnerable passengers. The successful claims I have dealt with, have related to passengers that were elderly, mobilised using a walking-aid or were visibly pregnant and therefore they could be classified as vulnerable passengers. In the case of Fletcher v United Counties Omnibus Company Ltd  the claimant was a 22 year old woman who was injured just after she boarded the bus. Whilst she was walking to her seat, the bus driver drove off at reasonable speed but then had to make an emergency stop resulting in her falling and sustaining injuries. Although the claim was successful at first instance, the bus company’s appeal was successful and the court held that the driver was not negligent as the driver had moved away from the bus-stop at a reasonable speed, and it was reasonable for the driver to proceed before the claimant had taken her seat, but the court noted that different considerations would have been applied if elderly or infirmed passengers encumbered by luggage or children were boarding.
Where the bus has to perform an emergency stop because another vehicle pulls in front of the bus, or because of an unexpected hazard and the driver brakes instinctively, a compensation claim against the bus company is not likely to be successful. In the case of Christian v South East London & Kent Bus Company  the claimant was thrown to the floor when the driver applied emergency braking and another passenger in front of the claimant fell onto her causing injuries. The claimant contended that the driver had been travelling too quickly towards a queue of traffic, however the driver stated that another car had cut in front of the bus and therefore emergency braking was justified. The Court of Appeal accepted that the driver had reacted on the spur of the moment to a car which tried to get in front of the bus, therefore the bus company was not liable. In this case the claimant should have brought a claim against the Motor Insurers’ Bureau under the Untraced Drivers Scheme as the unidentified car driver clearly caused the accident, such a claim, in my view, would have been successful. Where the bus driver acts instinctively to avoid a hazard, even where his actions may seem illogical, a bus company can still escape responsibility. In the case of Barry v Greater Manchester Transport Executive  a dog ran into the road in front of a bus and the driver instinctively applied braking. Passengers who had left their seats intending to alight at a nearby bus-stop were thrown to the floor and injured. The claimant contended that the driver should have taken a conscious decision to drive on rather than risk injuring the passengers. The court held that the driver had been taken by surprise when the dog suddenly dashed out in front of the bus and had reacted instinctively. The court noted that passengers on public transport take a risk that the driver may effect emergency braking causing inconvenience.
Where the bus accident wasn’t caused by the negligent driving or actions of the bus driver, normally a claimant will recover compensation in full against the other vehicle driver’s insurers as a deduction for contributory negligence is highly unlikely to arise as buses are not fitted with seatbelts and some passengers will have to stand. Where the bus driver was partly responsible for the accident, for example, by applying emergency braking at the last moment when it would have been possible to apply earlier gentler and more progressive braking, a claim could potentially be brought against both the bus company and the driver of the vehicle responsible for creating the hazard to which the bus driver reacted to. The vast majority of buses are fitted with CCTV cameras which cover the interior of the buses and cameras also provide external views, therefore CCTV footage can often be very helpful in determining responsibility for an accident. It is important to note that where a bus accident is caused by a pedestrian, cyclist or by someone riding a child scooter, the Motor Insurers’ Bureau will not be responsible for paying compensation under the Traced or Untraced Drivers Schemes. The Schemes generally apply to vehicles on the road requiring a compulsory policy of motor insurance. If a bus driver was not negligent in the way that the driver reacted to a hazard created by an uninsured defendant not covered by the Scheme, the claim is unlikely to succeed. In the case of Victor Keith Cridland v Stagecoach South Ltd [2014} EWHC 728 QB the claimant was a passenger who was injured when the bus driver applied emergency braking and he was thrown forward sustaining a serious injury. The bus driver maintained that he’d applied emergency braking to avoid a scooter rider. CCTV footage from the bus confirmed that the scooter rider was responsible for the accident. It was therefore reasonable for the driver to apply emergency braking and there was no evidence that the driver had been speeding prior to the accident occurring. The Court of Appeal upheld the original decision and the claimant’s appeal was dismissed. The decision in this case would have been very different if the young male who caused the accident was riding a motorcycle which requires compulsory insurance cover against third party claims. If the motorcyclist could have been identified, a claim against his insurers would have been successful or alternatively, if the motorcyclist could not be identified, then a claim against the Motor Insurers Bureau under the Untraced Drivers Scheme could have been made and the CCTV footage from the bus would have supported a successful claim.