Before COVID-19 hit, fatigue among bus drivers was already a serious problem. For most commercial operators, driving after eighteen consecutive awake hours is like driving drunk. By that time, motor skills and judgement ability are both seriously impaired.
Some pandemic policies and effects made the situation worse. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is supposed to keep people safe, has waived some HOS (Hours of Service) regulations, so these drivers can stay on the road longer. Furthermore, in one major city, municipal bus drivers threatened to go on strike because they were working so many hours and were so tired.
As outlined below, bus drivers have a legal duty to transport passengers safely from Point A to Point B. If they breach that duty, a Lexington personal injury attorney can obtain substantial compensation for accident survivors. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Bus Driver Duty of Care
Most noncommercial operators have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive defensively and obey the rules of the road.
Commercial operators, like bus drivers, have a higher duty of care in Kentucky. In fact, these common carriers, such as intercity or tour bus companies, must “use the highest degree of care for the safety of its passengers.”
Changing lanes is a good example. Noncommercial drivers can normally change lanes almost at will. But bus drivers must keep such maneuvers to an absolute minimum. It’s hard to see small cars on the road, especially when their drivers don’t follow at a safe distance. Additionally, most buses have such a high center of gravity that emergency maneuvers are rather dangerous for passengers.
Speaking of passenger safety, bus drivers don’t only have a responsibility to drive with extreme caution. Passenger safety is more important than getting to the next stop on time. Bus companies must also keep passengers safe while they are on board. This responsibility includes things like cleaning wet spots in aisles, enforcing conduct rules, and breaking up loud disputes between passengers.
If bus drivers breach their duty of care, either on the road or inside the passenger area, their employers could be financially responsible for damages, as outlined below. Liability attaches if the victim proves negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not.
Evidence of Fatigue
The evidence in a drowsy bus driver case, like the evidence in pretty much all negligence cases, could be direct or circumstantial.
Direct evidence of fatigue usually includes the Electronic Logging Device and the operator’s drowsy diving admissions. An ELD almost conclusively shows HOS activity. This gadget is basically a punch clock which is attached to the vehicle’s drive train. Admissions are almost as effective. Something almost mystical happens in court when tortfeasors’ (negligent drivers) own words are used against them.
Such direct evidence is often, but not always, available. The federal government’s ELD mandate usually only applies to semi-trucks and other such vehicles. Passenger buses might or might not have ELDs. As for admissions, these statements are usually only admissible in some situations.
Therefore, many negligence claims hinge on circumstantial evidence. Prosecutors have a hard time obtaining criminal convictions in these situations, mostly because the burden of proof is so high. But in civil court, a little circumstantial evidence goes a long way.
The time of day is a good example. Most people are naturally drowsy late at certain hours, such as late at night. That’s especially true if they have recently changed work schedules. Many tour bus drivers are behind the wheel at odd hours. Furthermore, many tour bus drivers work erratic schedules.
Medical records are another good example. Many commercial drivers struggle with sleep apnea, mostly because these individuals sit for long periods of time. Mild sleep apnea is snoring. People with more severe sleep apnea wake up constantly because they cannot breath well. So, they get little if any REM sleep. Instead, they basically nap all night. So, when they get up in the morning, they are still fatigued.
The challenging bit about a circumstantial evidence claim is that an attorney must be able to put the pieces of evidence together for the jury. At the same time, an attorney mustn’t talk down to jurors or do their job for them.
One other liability note. Usually, the company which owned the bus is financially responsible for damages. The respondeat superior rule typically applies if the tortfeasor was an employee who was acting in the scope of employment at the time of the wreck.
Injury victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money. #goodelawyers