Seat belts are supposed to save lives in automobile collisions. Numerous studies have consistently proven that the chances of surviving a car crash are greater if the victim is wearing a seatbelt than if the victim is not. Studies were so significant, legislatures enacted laws requiring those riding in cars to wear seat belts.
Although bus passengers are susceptible to the same dangerous injuries as car passengers, most buses do not have seat belts in every chair. Most school buses in particular, do not have seatbelts. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) thinks seat belts on school buses could do more harm than good because it could cause riders to bend at the hip. They add that school bussed are one of the safest forms of transportation today in how heavy they are and how they distribute crash forces. On average, six school-age children die in school bus crashes each year out of about 23.5 million school bus passengers in the U.S.
Despite the statistics and studies that indicate how safe buses are, in New York, the Court of Appeals has just reinstated personal injury claims of bus passengers against the vehicle owner and vehicle manufacturer for failing to install seat belts.
In a 6-1 ruling earlier this month, the Court of Appeals recognized that New York law did not require buses to be equipped with seat belts for passengers. The law only requires drivers of large buses to wear seat belts. However, the court found that the law did not pre-empt common law claims that are not in conflict with the New York law.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the jury found vehicle owner Best Transit Corp. and manufacturer Warrick Industries Inc. at fault for failing to equip the buses with seat belts. They also placed blame on the driver in the crash.
The passengers were visitors returning from Ray Brook state prison. Three of the bus passengers involved in the crash won judgments of up to $3.9 million.