You're probably secure in the knowledge that your auto insurance policy will ensure you are compensated for injuries and damage to your vehicle whenever you're involved in a traffic accident. But what happens if you are injured while riding a city bus or taking a subway? And what if you are injured while waiting at a transit stop? Read on to learn more about the legal treatment of mass transit accidents, as well as steps you should take if you find yourself in this situation.
What legal principles govern mass transit accidents?
To determine the type of compensation you may be entitled to, it's important to discern whether the crash was truly accidental or the result of negligence.
If the crash was an accident -- for example, another vehicle cut off the bus you were riding and the driver slammed the brakes and was rear-ended, or if there was debris on the tracks that could not reasonably have been avoided, you'll likely only be entitled to reimbursement of any medical expenses or lost wages suffered as a result of the crash.
However, if the driver was negligent, or if the entity performing regular maintenance on the track or the engine did so sloppily (and this failed maintenance was a direct contributor to the accident) you may be entitled to more. Depending upon the severity of your injuries, you might be able to receive not only lost wages and medical expenses, but punitive damages and pain and suffering. If you're married and this accident affected the quality of your marital life, your spouse may also have a valid claim for "loss of consortium."
How can you determine whether the accident was truly an accident or the result of negligence?
This can be tricky. In some cases, negligence is clear -- if you noticed the driver appeared to be intoxicated when you boarded the bus, or he or she was texting while driving, it's generally safe to assume the driver was negligent. However, mechanical negligence is often discovered only after the forensic specialists and crash analysts employed by the insurance company have examined the vehicle and surrounding areas and talked to witnesses.
In some cases, a crash that looks accidental -- such as skidding on ice -- can still be the result of negligence. If the dealership responsible for servicing tires and brakes did a sub-par job, or if the driver was going too fast for the conditions, it's possible the crash could have been avoided had these individuals acted differently.
For this reason, it's important not to settle with the insurance company until the full accident report has been released. If you settle before this time, you may be giving up compensation to which you are legally entitled, and once you've signed a settlement agreement with the insurance company or cashed a check they've provided, there is no further recourse.
You may also want to investigate hiring legal counsel. If a number of people were injured in this accident, it's likely a class action lawsuit is pending. You can join this class either by seeking out the law firm representing other injured plaintiffs or by retaining your own attorney, like one from Schiller, Kessler & Gomez, PLC.
How should you pay for injuries sustained in such an accident?
In some cases, litigation can drag on for years before a settlement is reached, and in the meantime, you may have expensive medical bills to pay, often on a reduced income. Luckily, there is financing available to you.
You may wish to consult a legal financing group. These companies help gauge the likelihood of a settlement of your claim, as well as the projected claim amount, and will lend you money in the interim to help catch up on bills. Once the case settles, you will repay these funds, and in many cases, if no settlement is reached or the defendant prevails in court, you are not required to make repayments.
You also shouldn't need to worry about paying your attorney. The vast majority of personal injury cases, particularly class action claims, are taken on a contingency fee basis. This means that the attorney fees are paid out of the total settlement, rather than paid up front by the litigants.