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All About Public Transit Accidents (and Liability)

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2018 | Bus Accidents

By Pendergast Law on February 18, 2018

Washington certainly provides many different ways to help the public get around. With buses, trains, monorails, and even ferries to move people from place to place, there are many ways to see the sights or commute to work and back again. But with so many options, there are bound to be accidents along the way. The Tacoma Amtrak derailing on December 18, 2017, is one tragic example.

In January 2018, some injured victims and their families (including a conductor) filed suit against Amtrak. We wish them the best. But getting compensation after experiencing an accident on public transit isn’t always simple.

Why It’s Harder to Sue Public Carriers

Most public transit accidents occur because of driver error or negligence. For example, 15 out of every 19 Washington state public bus accidents were found to be the bus drivers’ fault.

Unlike other car accidents, suing the bus driver may not be an option, even if the bus driver was negligent and caused the accident. This is because while working for the government, the bus driver is part of a government entity; suing government entities is very different from suing private citizens.

  • Washington’s state government, as well as local governments like the City of Seattle, has sovereign immunity, which protects them from personal injury lawsuits. The government entity may waive this immunity after an accident, and surprisingly, many do.
  • Before a lawsuit is filed, victims must file a claim with the Washington State Office of Risk Management (ORC). This claim will provide details about the accident, associated damages, and injuries. These forms can be long and confusing, and if they are not filled out properly, ORC can deny the claim completely, making it impossible to get the case heard before a jury.
  • Once the form has been filed with ORC, the victim must wait 60 days before filing a personal injury claim. During this time, ORC will investigate the accident and perhaps even offer a settlement to the injured person. It’s a good idea to have a personal injury attorney to examine any offers, as he will be able to advise you whether or not the settlement offer is fair, or if you can get more in court through a jury trial.

Why You May Sue a Private Company After a Public Accident

Even when you’re hurt in a public transit accident, it may be a private company or person who ends up liable for the accident. This could be the case if another driver was at fault, or if equipment malfunctioned and caused the accident. For instance, if the bus’s brakes malfunctioned, and the bus was manufactured by a private company, that company could have a personal injury claim filed against it under Washington’s product liability law.

Why Washington Is a Good Place to File a Claim

Many states place caps on the amount a jury can award you in a personal injury lawsuit. It may be a fixed amount, or may depend on another amount.

Washington has found these caps unconstitutional, and therefore has no caps, even when it’s a government entity being sued. This is good news for people taking public transit in Seattle and throughout Washington, and better news if you’ve been in an accident.

It can be difficult to know exactly what to do and how to do it after an accident on public transit. This is why it’s so important for accident victims to speak to a local personal injury attorney who can lead them through the steps and give them their best chance at claiming compensation for their injuries. For a free consultation with a Seattle government vehicle accident attorney at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., call 888-539-9211.