At about 2:30 a.m. this morning, the top of a double-decker bus smashed into an overpass railroad bridge spanning the Onondaga Lake Parkway. The impact threw the entire bus on its side. The bus had left from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and was making its way to Toronto with scheduled stops in Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. There were apparently about 25 passengers on board, of which four are now dead, and several suffer serious injuries. A bus company spokesperson said that the driver had not made his scheduled stop in Syracuse, and that the bus was not on its scheduled bus route.
Our hearts go out to the families of the dead, and to the injured. Even those who are not seriously injured are undoubtedly experiencing severe emotional distress and post traumatic shock at this time.
As a Syracuse New York vehicular accident lawyer, I can tell you that this kind of accident cannot happen without some negligence or carelessness on the part of someone.
Here are the most obvious apparent culprits: The bus driver apparently mistakenly deviated from his scheduled route, and with a bus that tall, you can’t do that without first verifying that your bus can fit under any overpasses along the way. Further, there are warnings before you pass under that railroad bridge setting forth the height of the bridge. The driver apparently failed to heed those warnings, or else failed to know the height of his bus.
If the bus driver was negligent in causing this collision, then the owner of the bus, and his employer, are vicariously liable for his negligence under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law 388. The owner/employer is apparently Coach USA, a holding company for various U.S. transportation service providers who provide scheduled bus services as well as sightseeing tours, yellow school buses, and charter bus services. Coach USA is owned by a Scottish company called “Stagecoach Group”.
The victims of this tragic accident and their families should have no trouble, with the help of a New York bus accident lawyer, in obtaining full compensation, from this large family of corporations, for their injuries, lost wages, lost income, medical expenses and pain and suffering.
But the bus company and its driver might not be the only ones liable. This is not the first time that a bus or truck has struck the low-clearance railroad bridge that passes over this Parkway. A New York negligent roadway design or failure to warn case against Onondaga County should be investigated. The warnings as one approaches the railroad overpass may be deemed insufficient.
Quite frankly, though, a case against the County based on negligent roadway design or failure to adequately warn is likely to be much ado about nothing here. Why? Because under New York auto accident law, even if the County’s negligence in failing to properly warn or in failing to properly design the roadway contributed to the accident, if the bus driver is also partly responsible (and it sure looks like he is!), then the bus company will be 100% liable to the injured and the families of the deceased victims. In fact, even if the bus driver is only 1% responsible for the accident and the County is 99% responsible, the bus company is still 100% liable to the victims. This rule is known as “joint and several liability“, and it applies to all New York motor vehicle accidents pursuant to CPLR 1601.
Given the “joint and several” liability law in New York, it might not be worth bringing a negligent roadway design claim against the County. Those claims usually require hiring roadway experts and engineers, and they are expensive. The expense might not be warranted given the “deep pocket” bus company’s clear “joint and several” liability. This bus company should have plenty of insurance and assets to completely compensate the victims.
All this, of course, needs to be fully and thoroughly investigated by a New York personal injury lawyer experienced in car, truck and bus accident cases as well as in negligent roadway design cases. And the investigation should start soon; although the victims have two (for death cases) and three (for injury cases) years to file suit against the bus company, they have to serve a “notice of claim” against the County within 90 days.