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Liability of Tour and Charter Bus Operators

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According to the American Bus Association, an industry trade group, "motorcoach [aka "bus"] operators perform a variety of transportation services such as charters, retail tours, scheduled service, sightseeing, local receptive operations, school bus, package express and special operations."

In today's post, the commercial bus accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm explains how tour and charter bus operators may liable for injuries that occur on their vehicles. He will then explain the legal options that may be available to accident victims and their families. But first, a few definitions.

What are "tour" and "charter" buses

For our purposes, we can say that a "tour bus" is usually considered to be a vehicle that transports passengers along a set route to specific destinations. Sometimes called "tourist" or "sightseeing" buses, the better-known examples of these buses include the New York City "Landmark Tours" and the Los Angeles/Hollywood "See the Movie Stars' Homes"-style tours. Tour bus operators usually sell "tickets" or "seats" to individual passengers.

A "charter bus" is a vehicle that is reserved for the private use of a group, organization, or business. A "charter" is typically hired to take people to a common destination of their choice instead of traveling along a set route governed by a published schedule or timetable. As a rule, the operator of a charter bus does not collect a "fare" or similar charge from individual passengers, but a business may charter a bus and then "resell" seats on the bus to individual passengers.

Regardless of what their owners call them, the federal government calls them "common carriers" if they an entity whose business transports people or goods from one place to another for a fee regardless of whether (or not) they engage in interstate commerce. A common carrier is also liable for any injuries to its passengers or to anyone who is injured because of its negligence.

Are tour and charter buses required to carry insurance?

In addition to complying with any number of both federal, state, and / or local laws and regulations, tour and charter buses are required to have certain amounts of insurance coverage in force at all times. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), if a bus carries over 16 passengers, the bus must carry at least $5,000,000 in liability insurance coverage. If a bus carries 15 passengers, or fewer, it must carry at least $1,500,000 in insurance coverage.

These insurance requirements are waived if:

  • The vehicle transports only school children and school personnel to and from school
  • The vehicle provides taxicab services and having a seating capacity of less than 7 passengers and is not operated on a regular route or between specified points
  • It carryies less than 16 people in a single daily round trip commuting to and from work
  • It is operated by a motor carrier under contract to provide transportation students for extracurricular trips organized sponsored, and paid for, by a school district

Note that even if not required by law to carry insurance coverage, all of the above are still expected to comply with any and all laws or regulations that may apply to their operations.

Notable tour / charter bus accidents

Someone once observed that tour and charter bus accidents are similar to aircraft accidents: infrequent, but very nasty when they do occur. While that remark may sound a bit crass, there is some truth in the statement. In the following section we present some of the more "newsworthy" tour and charter accidents from the last several years.

  • April 5, 2018: A bus transporting patrons to the Masters Golf Tournament rolled over on I-20 just west of Augusta GA, injuring 15. The bus driver, who was later reported by passengers to have been driving erratically since leaving Atlanta over 2 hours earlier, was charged with DUI.

  • March 8, 2017: A charter bus in route to a casino in Biloxi MS became stuck at a railroad crossing and was struck by a train. Four people were killed in the accident, although an NTSB investigation cleared the bus driver of responsibility.

  • October 23, 2016: In the early morning hours, cross-country trucker Bruce Guilford had stopped in the right-hand lane of I-10 near Palm Springs while police cleared a traffic accident. After he fell asleep, police allowed traffic flow to resume but Guilford did not awaken. Shortly afterward, a tour bus returning to the LA area rammed into the parked semi, killing 13 and injuring dozens. Guilford was later charged with 13 counts of manslaughter although the initial investigation revealed that the buses' owner had multiple traffic violations in th years prior to the accident.

  • March 12, 2011: The driver of a charter bus returning to NYC's Chinatown from a day trip to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut lost control of his vehicle as he tried to avoid a semi-truck rig on I-95 South near the city limits. Thirteen passengers died at the scene and another died at a local hospital. The remaining eighteen passengers and the driver suffered serious injuries.

Injured in a tour / charter bus accident? Contact a commercial bus accident lawyer!

In future posts we plan to examine the commercial bus industry in more detail and will concentrate our first series of articles on the rapidly-expanding, and poorly-regulated, "party bus" operations that are gaining a reputation as "rolling bars" with very poor safety records.

In the interim, if you were injured in a tour / charter bus accident and are unsure about how to protect your legal right to compensation, we invite you to contact the commercial bus accident injury lawyer at The Doan Law Firm to arrange a free review of the circumstances of your accident and suggestions on what you should do next.

When you contact our firm, your first consultation with us is always free and does obligate you to hiring us to represent you in court. Should you later decide to have us manage your injury lawsuit, we are always willing to assume full responsibility for your case in exchange for a negotiated percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.

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