Accidents that involve public transportation can be severe because of the number of people that they affect. Public bus accidents, for example, can impact a great deal more people than the average passenger car accident. If you have been injured on public transportation, you will likely need to start negotiations, and potentially a lawsuit, against a governmental entity.
While some people believe that you cannot sue the government, that is not true in the context of public transportation accidents. In those situations, the state of New Jersey and local governments have usually waived their immunity to be sued so they can be accountable for their actions. This is very helpful for public transport accident victims who may be facing significant medical bills, time away from work, and other losses. However, there are special rules that apply to claims against public agencies, and you must follow these rules or risk your claim getting dismissed outright.
What is Sovereign Immunity?
Initially, at common law, the government could not be sued. Starting a case against the King of England was much more likely to land you in jail than do anything productive. This concept is commonly known as “sovereign immunity.”
That type of mentality carried over to early America, and most states had the same rule. New Jersey was one such state. Part of the reason that this rule continued to exist is that the government did not want to expend its resources defending claims when it could be using money, time, and effort serving the people as a whole. Continually defending claims is generally a distraction from serving the people effectively.
In 1972, New Jersey enacted the Tort Claim Act, which changed how the government was treated when it came to certain types of claims. Now, government agencies can be sued for “torts.” A tort is a wrongful act committed against another person or entity that causes damage.
The most common torts asserted against governmental entities are in the context of public transportation or road and sidewalk maintenance. Under the Tort Claims Act, you can now sue a public agency directly if you have been injured on public transportation.
Claims against Port Authority NJ Transit or PATH have a Statute of Limitations of 90 days from when the incident occurred that caused your incident. Hence, it is vital you file immediately to receive the compensation you deserve.
The Statute of Limitations for Public Transport Lawsuits in New Jersey
The state, local governments, and, by extension, public agencies have chosen to allow civil suits to be asserted against them in some areas of the law. Most public transport accidents fall under the umbrella of claims that the government has permitted in New Jersey. However, the waiver of the government’s immunity is limited. That means that you must follow specific rules to start your claim. These rules are unlike any other legal claim against a private party.
One significant difference is related to the “statute of limitations.” In most car accident claims in New Jersey, you have two years from the date of the accident to start your lawsuit. If you do not start your claim within that period, then you are forever barred from bringing a suit (unless specific exceptions apply). If you try to start a petition, your case will likely be dismissed right away.
Lawsuits against the government, however, have much shorter periods in which you must take action. The Tort Claims Act requires that you give a public agency notice of a claim within 90 days of the date that it occurred. This notice must be in writing and provided to the proper agency. If you miss this deadline, your ability to assert a lawsuit may be barred forever. If you properly serve the tort claim notice, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Additionally, under the Tort Claims Act, you cannot start the suit until six months from date of the tort claims notice.
Common Injuries Related to Public Transportation
When most people think of injuries on public transportation, they may automatically think of a car accident that involves a bus. While these accidents certainly cause injuries and damage, they are not the only type of accident related to public transportation that a state agency may need to address.
Injuries on buses could be caused by collisions, but they may also be the result of getting on or off a bus, being jolted inside the bus without being involved in an accident (such as a sudden stop or quick acceleration), and injuries caused by third parties. You may also be hurt because of a defect in the bus or its maintenance as well.
The bus driver has a great deal of responsibility for those on the bus. When a bus driver acts carelessly, then the public agency that employs him or her may be responsible for your injuries or other damage. Common causes of bus accidents in New Jersey include:
- Failure to follow the rules of the road
- Loss of control of the vehicle
- Moving too quickly when passengers are trying to move about the bus (getting on or off the bus)
- Failure to yield to pedestrians
- Drunk or impaired driving
Other cars can also cause accidents that involve a public bus. In those circumstances, you may have a claim against both the local or state agency and a third-party who was operating another vehicle.
Many New Jersey residents spend time on a train as part of their commute. Train accidents can cause injuries, but situations where a train derails or is involved in a crash are rare. It is much more likely that you are injured while on the train because of poor maintenance or sudden movements. You may have a legal claim in either of these situations.
Examples of situations that may result in a personal injury claim related to a train include:
- Train derailment
- Collisions at railroad crossings
- Debris on train tracks
- Defective warning signs
- Poor or inadequate train operation
Like bus accidents, there could be more than one party involved in a train accident as well. A New Jersey personal injury attorney can be very helpful in sorting out who should be included in your legal claim. For example, in a newsworthy case in Hoboken the train did not stop coming into the terminal and just rammed into the platform resulting in the death of one passenger and serious injuries to many others.
Public agencies are also required to maintain bus and train stations. When a public agency does not keep up with keeping walkways and other areas safe for visitors, it can lead to injuries. A state agency may need to bear legal responsibilities for your damages and injuries after a slip and fall or other accident in a public transportation station.
What Should I Do If I’m Injured on Public Transportation?
You should always get medical attention right away after an injury. This is true even if you do not think you have been injured that badly. In some cases, you may not realize just how hurt you actually are right away. Get a thorough examination by a medical professional as soon as you can after an injury.
Getting medical help right away is not only a good idea for your health, but it is also helpful for your legal claim. Part of what you have to show in a legal case is that your damages and injuries were due to the accident on public transportation. If you get medical help close in time to your accident, then it is easier to show cause and effect.
The next thing you should do is call an attorney. Because of the very short notice period for these claims, it is especially important to act quickly. Your attorney will help you put together the required notice forms for these types of claims and jump through any other administrative hoops that you need. There may be many different governmental agencies involved and you have to provide notice to each separate agency or will be barred from bringing your case.
If you or a loved one has been injured on public transport, contact the personal injury attorneys at our New Jersey offices to schedule a free consultation. Your time is limited. Don’t wait to make the call!