Public transportation plays an essential role in the lives of New Jersey residents. NJ Transit has a duty to keep its thousands of passengers safe every day. Unfortunately, whether due to negligence, faulty machinery, or just bad timing, accidents do happen. Public transit accidents require immediate follow-up, as injured victims have just 90 days to file a claim. Those who have suffered or lost a loved one due to a public transit accident should contact a personal injury attorney immediately.
In 2016, a high-profile NJ Transit train crashed into a busy Hoboken station, killing one passenger and injuring over 100 others. Since then, the New Jersey transit system has been heavily scrutinized by the press and federal safety agencies for its safety standards.
The Federal Railroad Administration found that in 2019 there were 365 safety incidents on NJ Transit alone, the equivalent of one accident a day. A consulting agency conducted an audit, finding major operational issues with the agency.
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Statute of Limitations
As noted earlier, it’s especially important to seek legal advice if injured on public transportation because there is only a 90-day window to file a claim. In one Camden County case, a woman was rear ended by an NJ Transit bus. She suffered neck, shoulder, and lower back pain, as well as headaches. Her attorney advised her against filing a claim because he felt her injuries did not meet the ‘permanency requirements’ to do so.
Her pain persisted, however, and her doctor informed her that her injuries would be permanent. In response, her attorney did file a claim — nine months later. He made a request for late filing but the court rejected the case on the grounds that there were no ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Fortunately, the victim and her attorney appealed and the decision was overturned, allowing her to pursue the claim.
This case illustrates New Jersey’s strict adherence to its 90-day statute of limitations on tort claims, but also shows that a skilled attorney can sometimes overcome a late filing issue. If a victim suspects they are entitled to compensation, they should pursue action immediately.
What Should I Do if I Suffer a Public Transportation-related Injury?
As with all accidents involving personal injury, what you do, or don’t do immediately following an incident can help or hinder your case.
- First, seek medical attention.
- Collect all medical records and reports immediately after the accident.
- Photograph the scene of the accident and collect contact information from any witnesses.
- Make the operator aware of any injuries caused by the accident.
- Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, as victims have only 90 days to file a claim.
What Causes Public Transportation Accidents?
Public transit is a complex system of factors, all of which need to align for the operation to run smoothly. Accidents can happen on any form of transit if the operator drives while distracted, drunk, or even while falling asleep. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, falling asleep at the wheel is, sadly, quite common for bus and train operators who work long shifts. Mandatory breaks for drivers are not enforced consistently and drivers are sometimes under-trained as well.
Trains run their own unique set of risks. New Jersey has seen derailments, which can be attributed to debris on train tracks, defective signals and warning signs, and mechanically unstable engines. Train tracks themselves pose a danger, as passengers can fall or be pushed from the platform. There is also the potential for trains to collide with pedestrians or automobiles at crossings.
Busses can also cause serious accidents, as they share the road with other vehicles on New Jersey’s heavily trafficked streets and highways. Busses are difficult to operate, and a driver’s inattention, failure to follow the rules of the road, or loss of control of the vehicle can cause an accident. Passengers can also get hurt if a bus moves too quickly while they are getting on or off at a stop.
What Are Common Public Transportation Injuries?
Public train transportation is efficient because its cars are large enough to carry hundreds of people at high speeds. Their enormous mass and high velocity also mean they can cause catastrophic damage to people and property in an accident. Mass casualties, including fatalities, are not uncommon.
Similarly, bus accidents can also cause serious bodily harm and property damage. Busses are more likely than trains to collide with pedestrians, cars, stationary objects such as poles and guard rails, and other busses.
Both of these types of accidents can cause anything from broken bones, scarring and nerve damage to brain damage, paralysis, and death. In addition to physical suffering, such serious injuries usually come with expensive medical bills and loss of work. Victims of significantly horrific mass transit accidents can also experience residual psychological and emotional issues.
A personal injury attorney can help clients secure the compensation they need to cover the expenses that come with such an ordeal.
What if I Was Injured on Public Transportation Property?
Improper maintenance of railroad stations, bus stops, and train crossings can also lead to serious accidents. In one such case, a woman was struck and killed by an NJ Transit train crossing an intersection. At the time, the crossing was not guarded by gates, nor were there any signs to give advance warning of the intersection. After two previous accidents at the same location, the local government had been advised to upgrade traffic signals at the intersection. They failed to do so for nearly a decade. The victim’s father sued NJ Transit, Union County, and other groups for wrongful death. Initially, the judge ruled in favor of the state. Later, on appeal, it was found that NJ Transit and the state were liable for the oversight and the ruling was overturned.
Ultimately, the agency responsible for maintaining the safety of a location has a responsibility to update it in a timely manner. This includes fixing uneven concrete, trip hazards, and other threats to passenger safety.
Does NJ Have Immunity Against Lawsuits?
New Jersey is not completely immune to lawsuits. Under Title 59, the Tort Claims Act establishes the concept of “sovereign immunity,” which means that the government is generally protected from claims brought by citizens.
There are significant exceptions to this policy. For example, Section 59:2 states that if a public employee commits an act of negligence “within the scope of his employment,” he is liable for damages. The law also states that a public entity is liable for injury caused on its property “if the plaintiff establishes that the property was in dangerous condition at the time of the injury.”
Public entities are protected from liability for pain and suffering, except “in cases of permanent loss of a bodily function, permanent disfigurement or dismemberment where the medical treatment expenses are in excess of $3,600.”
New Jersey tort regulations are complex. An experienced attorney can help navigate this difficult, but often necessary, process to secure compensation for injury-related expenses.
Case Study: $3.9 Million
What makes this case unique: Competing arguments on whether the victim had experienced “impending doom”; a big-shot attorney who was “too large” for the case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Under New Jersey’s Tort Claim Act (N.J.S.A. 59:1-1), it is possible to file a claim for damages against a state entity. The majority of torts filed against the New Jersey government are related to public transportation and property, which can include maintenance of roads, stations, and equipment.
Under the Tort Claims Act (59:4-2), if the victim establishes that their injury was due to the unsafe condition of public property, they have a case against the public entity. The victim must prove that the condition was dangerous, their injury was caused by the condition, and that the condition created a foreseeable risk that could have been avoided. If the victim is able to prove these elements, he/she is eligible to file a claim within 90 days of the incident.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how much money a client will be awarded in court. However, New Jersey paid over $233,000 in civil penalties for safety cases in 2018, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. And as mentioned earlier, New Jersey Transit is one of the busiest networks in the country, and if a passenger has been injured due to negligence or unsafe conditions, they are entitled to just compensation.
The simple answer is: as soon as possible. Unlike auto claims, which have a 2-year statute of limitations, personal injury victims need to act extremely quickly when it comes to public transportation cases. New Jersey’s Tort Claims Act allows claimants just 90 days to file.
Who Should I Contact?
The attorneys at Rosenblum Law can help you navigate this difficult and time-sensitive ordeal. Our experienced attorneys have won many cases with positive results. To speak directly to one of our attorneys, call 888-235-9021 or email us today.