Understand your legal rights if you are injured by a public bus driver

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Being struck and injured by an HRT bus or public school bus raises a host of legal difficulties that most traffic accident victims will not encounter. Receiving a settlement for wrongful injury or death is always possible, but in partnership with a dedicated and competent professional Virginia Plaintiff’s Attorney will greatly increase the chances of obtaining this positive result.

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The biggest obstacle to a claim for bodily injury or wrongful death from an accident caused by a public bus driver is the name of sovereign immunity. This common law principle which is traditionally stated as “the king can do no wrong”, essentially allows government agencies and transportation districts or boards like HRT to dismiss suits.

Virginia’s Sovereign Immunity Act specifically exempts city, county, and state employees doing their jobs from civil suits unless there is evidence that the person acted with gross negligence. The State Supreme Court defines gross negligence as “indifference to another and a complete disregard or caution that amounts to a complete disregard for that other person’s safety”.

This is a high bar to cross. Evidence that a public bus driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, intended to cause harm, or was driving with the knowledge of an official despite being prohibited from doing so could meet the standard of gross negligence.

Transportation agencies and districts lose their sovereign immunity when there is evidence that their officers or managers violated a law or regulation in a way that resulted in the injury or death of a person. For example, failure to ensure that a bus driver was properly licensed could subject a transit bus line to liability.

Sovereign immunity challenges must also be filed very soon after a public bus or school bus accident. Separated from the usual 2 year prescription which applies to claims for bodily injury and wrongful death in Virginia, government agencies and transportation commissions must be notified of the intent to file insurance claims or pursue legal action within 6 months of a bus accident.

A school board is the only type of government entity in Virginia that is not covered by strong sovereign immunity protections. The victim of a simply negligent public school bus driver can seek compensation and monetary damages from a school board, just as the injured person would against a trucking company. It is always necessary to prove that the bus driver did something wrong, such as following too closely or failing to yield the right of way to cause an accident and inflict injury, but a school board does not have the right to simply denying responsibility out of hand.

EJL

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