Yes, but it may be difficult depending on why you want to sue. When you buy your ticket, you form a contract with the bus service. That contract places all sorts of limitations on your ability to sue and what you might be able to recover. That’s not to say you have no chance, however. Just an uphill battle.
You may want the help of an experienced contracts lawyer. They can help you navigate the bus service’s terms of service. If you or a loved one were injured, you should consult bus accident lawyers or personal injury attorneys at a personal injury law firm instead.
Intercity Bus Services in the United States
Intercity bus transportation is an important part of our transportation network, especially for people in smaller or rural communities that don’t have ready access to planes or trains. Bus transportation may also be more affordable than other options. And many people enjoy being out on the roadways without having to worry about driving. About 60 million people use intercity bus services every year.
There are a few large companies that serve many bus lines, and many smaller companies, including charter bus companies, that serve a smaller number of routes. Here are some of the large companies:
- Greyhound Lines, Inc. — Greyhound is the largest provider of intercity bus service in the U.S.
- Indian Trials — Indian Trails serves Michigan and the Midwest region
- Miller Transportation (Hoosier Ride) — Hoosier Ride serves Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee
- Trailways — Trailways is more a network of companies that provide intercity bus service than a single company that often allies with Greyhound
- Jefferson Lines — Jefferson Lines serves Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Washington, and Wyoming
- Megabus — Megabus serves 135 cities out of 12 hubs (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Washington, D.C., and Toronto)
Because it’s the largest provider, we will focus here on Greyhound’s terms of service. Other companies’ terms will likely differ. Make sure you read them carefully before you book your trip.
Why Might You Want to Sue?
Before we get to that, let’s start with why you might want to sue. Although they generally provide a safe and convenient means of transportation, intercity bus services aren’t free from complaints. Most complaints involve travel delays or cancellations. Some involve lost luggage. Occasionally, a bus may be in a crash and bus passengers get hurt or killed. Here are a few examples.
Suppose you are John Madden (rest his soul), who was known for traveling by bus from city to city. Your bus needs maintenance, so you book a charter. On the way to Chicago — you are supposed to be one of the announcers for the Bears-Vikings game — the bus breaks down in the middle of Nebraska, leaving you stranded for hours. The delay causes you to miss the game and you lose your job.
Suppose you are a cosplayer heading to San Diego by bus for Comic-Con. You are going as Green Lantern, so you make sure to pack your limited-edition power ring and limited-edition power battery for the convention. When you get to San Diego, you find that Greyhound somehow lost your bag. Replacing those collector’s items would cost you thousands of dollars.
Suppose your favorite aunt is coming to visit for Thanksgiving. She’s afraid of flying, so she decides to take a Greyhound bus. On the way, the bus driver falls asleep at the wheel and runs into a bridge. Your aunt sustains serious injuries in the Greyhound bus accident.
What Are Your Rights?
There are several ways to buy a ticket, but most people book their bus travel online. By using its website, you agree to the bus service’s terms and conditions. That forms a binding contract that gives you certain rights.
On its website, Greyhound promises that you “should” experience a safe and reliable bus ride with professional courteous service in accordance with the Intercity Motorcoach Customer Bill of Rights. The Customer Bill of Rights lists a number of different rights, including:
- Safe and orderly boarding
- On-time service, subject to events outside the operator’s control (including as weather, construction, and traffic)
- “Adequate assistance” in case of significant delays or cancellations caused by the operator
- “Reasonable compensation or rerouting” in case of significant delays or cancellations caused by the operator
- A process for handling complaints involving travel, baggage, package express, and accommodations for people with disabilities
- “Diligent investigation and timely redress of complaints”
Disclaimers and Limitations
What the contract giveth, however, the contract can taketh away. And Greyhound strictly limits your rights in its Terms and Conditions and its Terms and Conditions of Purchase and Carriage.
A disclaimer can be seen as a generally enforceable denial of responsibility in a contract. Greyhound’s disclaimers are sweeping.
Let’s start with delays. They say that departure times and even dates may change. Although they agree to make “reasonable attempts” to minimize delays, they disclaim responsibility for delays caused by conditions beyond their “reasonable” control.
As far as lost luggage goes, Greyhound has two disclaimers on its website expressly rejecting liability for any lost or damaged baggage. They might be willing to help you track down a lost bag, but they specifically reject that they’ll compensate you in their disclaimer.
Limitation on Damages
Greyhound also limits the damages you can recover against them. The term “damages” refers to money the defendant (the party being sued) pays the plaintiff (the party doing the suing) in a civil case if the plaintiff wins. The calculation of damages depends on the losses the plaintiff sustained. In a contract case, the goal is to put the plaintiff in the same position they would be in if the defendant had performed their promises.
Greyhound specifically disclaims two particular categories of damages in case of “loss, damage, or delay”:
- Consequential damages (also known as special damages): Generally, damages for loss, damages, or delay that were reasonably foreseeable or within the contemplation of the parties at the time you bought your ticket
- Incidental damages: Damages for reasonable expenses you incur as a result of any loss, damage, or delay
That may not sound like much, but if you are in a state that will enforce this disclaimer (and not all of them will), it’s really a lot. Let’s use consequential damages as an example.
Imagine you are John Madden and you miss your Bears game. Missing a commitment because of a travel delay caused by Greyhound would be reasonably foreseeable at the time you bought your ticket. If your TV network fired you because you didn’t get to Chicago in time for the broadcast, the loss of your job should be included in the calculation of your consequential damages if you sued Greyhound. The disclaimer prevents that.
The analysis would be slightly different in your aunt’s case, which involves personal injuries. To sue for personal injuries, you would need to show negligence. Negligence is the failure to use ordinary care under the circumstances. To recover damages, your aunt would need to show that the bus driver’s negligence directly caused her foreseeable injuries. Damages available in personal injury cases include medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Greyhound would argue that its disclaimers limit the amount your aunt would be able to recover for her injuries in the car accident. Whether that argument would hold up in court depends on your state, your judge, and your lawyer. Generally speaking, courts don’t like it when big companies disclaim personal injuries and will interpret such disclaimers narrowly.
Put simply, if the bus was in bad repair or the bus driver was negligent and you were injured as a result, don’t necessarily be daunted by the disclaimer. Speak with a personal injury attorney and get their take. Because personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis (they’ll take a portion of your damages if you win) there’s no harm or cost in exploring your options.
Limitation on Where You Can Sue
The contract includes a forum selection clause, which is a clause that specifies where any lawsuit arising out of it may be brought. Greyhound’s forum selection clause picks Dallas, Texas — and only Dallas, Texas — as the site of any lawsuit. That may be fine if you live in Dallas, but if you live anywhere else, that could be a problem. If all you are out is the cost of your ticket, suing in Texas might be prohibitively expensive.
States generally limit the amount of time you have to bring a lawsuit. Greyhound’s terms limit it even further. According to your contract, you have only one year to bring your lawsuit or you are “permanently barred.”
No Class Claims
Sometimes courts let parties group their claims together into a single case. These cases are called class actions. Class actions can be an effective way to share costs and maximize the recovery of the entire group. They are also useful in cases where a bunch of consumers has the same problem with a business but bringing their own claims individually wouldn’t be worth it.
No such luck against Greyhound. Its terms of service expressly prohibit you from bringing a class action. If you sue Greyhound, you’re on your own.
What Should I Do if I Have a Problem With a Bus Service?
If you have a complaint against a bus service, they may refund the cost of your ticket if you bought a refundable ticket. But don’t just give up if you bought a non-refundable ticket. If you are diligent and polite, a good customer service agent may at least give you a travel voucher.
But if you are out more than just the cost of your ticket, you should consider forming an attorney-client relationship with an experienced attorney. If you or a loved one weren’t injured, you would want to speak to a contracts lawyer. If there were injuries or fatalities, you should get legal advice from a personal injury attorney or bus accident attorney. They would be able to help you understand your rights, negotiate with the insurance company, and, if you do decide to sue, they could represent you in court. Many offer a free consultation.