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Assigning vicarious liability in bus accidents

Most motorists in Shepardsville likely understand the need to share the road with buses, while bus passengers no doubt appreciate the commuting option that such vehicles offer. However, like all large commercial vehicles, buses can present an increased risk of causing extensive damage along with devastating injuries should such vehicles ever be involved in an accident.

Information shared by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shows that there were 4,311 fatal crashes involving buses and large trucks in 2015 in the U.S. In most cases where a bus is recognized as having caused the accident, the bus driver is the one that most would assume to be liable, both for injuries to the occupants of the vehicles that he or she may have struck as well as to the passengers that he or she was transporting. Yet can liability also extend to the company that employs the driver?

A legal principle exists known as “respondeat superior.” This doctrine (as shared by the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University Law School) states that companies can be assigned vicarious liability due to the actions of their employees. However, in order for this principle to apply, the employee’s actions must be determined to be within the scope of his or her employment.

Say a bus driver is driving too fast on roads made slick due to weather conditions. If he or she causes a collision, it could be argued that even though he or she was speeding, he or she was still performing his or her designated job responsibilities. Yet if he or she was later discovered to have been drunk while driving, his or her employer may claim that his or her decision to drink and drive had nothing to do with his or her employment. 

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