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Top 4 tips for attorneys litigating serious bus accident cases

Written by Steve Gursten Posted January 14th, 2014

Tips to help attorneys litigating bus accident injury cases that can avoid common pitfalls and mistakes that lawyers often make

Scapadas Magica fatal CA bus crash

The most common mistake any lawyer makes when litigating a serious bus accident case is to handle it the same way you would litigate an ordinary car accident. A bus  is not a car.  Entirely different rules apply.

In today’s blog, we want to emphasize that you will miss out on legal compensation that your client is entitled to recover if you treat bus accidents like car wreck cases.

So, here are a few helpful tips that can help you maximize your effectiveness — and really help your client — if you’re litigating a bus accident injury.

1. Take a look at the scene: It is essential that you examine the scene if you’re going to be a successful bus accident lawyer. Get a sense of each driver’s perspective. Experience what your client and the bus driver saw — or what they should have seen.  Also, review Google maps and  see what changes, if any, have taken place since at the intersection since the date of the bus accident. The quicker you get out to visit the scene, the better.

2. Don’t skip legal discovery. Learn about the bus company and its safety rating. Look at the driver and his history of driving violations and how many other accidents he has caused. Do you have the basis for a negligent hiring, training, or a negligent entrustment case? When your bus accident case involves a motor coach, look at the  company’s website and see what information you can uncover. Get the driver manuals – all of them.  I’ve litigated many of these cases, and the biggest legal discovery fights are over the driver manuals. But they can be very helpful as you move forward litigating your bus wreck case.

3. Depose the bus driver first. Remember, most of these cases are really about what the company did wrong.  You want to build your case against the bus company, not just the bus driver. The biggest mistake that lawyers make with these cases is they focus only on what the bus driver did wrong, and what the driver could have done to avoid the crash.  But to successfully litigate a bus accident, you should be focusing on what the bus company did wrong.

Focus on the poor choices the bus company made, and highlight where they cut corners on safety.

A great way to get a head start on this is to depose the bus driver first. Ask opened-ended questions and let the bus driver talk. You are building a case against the bus company — so let the driver talk about the company. Another thing to remember is that often, these bus drivers have been fired by the company following the crash. They often feel angry, betrayed, and feel they are being unfairly set up as the “fall guy” for everything the company did wrong. Ask the driver about his training, or the lack of it. Ask about the safety protocols, or the lack of any safety protocols. Ask about the overall safety culture of the company.

4. Focus on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and how they apply to this bus accident: To be a successful  lawyer, you have to know the law, right?  This should be axiomatic.  But very few lawyers know and understand that there are many specific rules that apply to buses and to how they must be driven.  Focus on what rules the company broke. Focus on what areas of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) the company has repeatedly violated. Focus on how  bad this bus company really was.

Yes, the driver caused the crash, but in the causal chain of events, this was just the last of many safety violations and decisions.  These cases are about broken promises, not about the bus driver not applying his brakes on time.  The company broke its  promise to operate safely and follow the mandatory safety rules that would have made this injury or death completely preventable. They broke their promise to the government when the government gave them operating authority to drive a bus on the public roadways in exchange for following these mandatory safety rules that are meant to protect us all.

Although you are focusing on the company, that doesn’t mean the driver gets a pass. After all, you also want to focus on what rules the bus driver violated.  Here, you want to look at the CDL manual for guidance. In section 2 of the CDL manual , there is a lot of information regarding safety. This is a great resource for any lawyer involved in a bus accident involving turning collisions, pedestrians, side swipes, failing to yield, and virtually every other scenario you can imagine. After you highlight what rules the bus driver broke, shine the spotlight back on the bus company. Show that they never properly trained the bus driver to follow the CDL, and failed to properly train and supervise the driver. Show that the company didn’t have any kind of review system, as they are required by law to have in place. Show that without a system for enforcement, these mandatory federal rules and company policies and procedures became merely suggestions. Show that the bus company valued profit over safety.

Hopefully these tips will prove helpful.

Related information:

FMCSA shuts down Rimrock bus company in Montana

FMSCA enlists new allies in war against dangerous bus companies

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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