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San Jose
Friday, July 12, 2024

Surviving a Bus Accident in Costa Rica

My son and daughter’s annual visit was over. We said our goodbyes at the airport and I dropped off the rental car. From the airport back to San Jose I had two options: Twenty-five dollar cab ride or a few hundred colon bus ride that would save me twenty-four dollars and change.

A no-brainer– I walked around the sloped sidewalk at the airport entrance, down to the bus stop. Within a few minutes a bus arrived. I boarded, paid the fare and headed straight for the back. It was an older bus, with seats that provided little legroom for anyone over five feet tall.

The middle seat in the last row allowed me to stretch out my legs into the aisle. It was a typical weekday afternoon on the busy road, three lanes each direction, except where there were bridges and the road narrowed inconveniently to two lanes before expanding back to three lanes on the other side of the bridge.

This was–and still is in some places– the norm with bridges here. They are sometimes one lane less than the number of lanes of the road. Ticos say the missing lane is because of corruption. The money was there to build a complete bridge, but evaporated into the hands of those in charge of the construction.

About halfway to San Jose, in the stretch of road with a series of gradual downhills and uphill’s, we were in the middle lane. Lanes on either side were full of cars, trucks, tractor trailers. As we were descending somewhere near the exit for Escazu, I saw up ahead in our lane that a car was stalled.

I had a clear view straight down the aisle. The driver saw it about the same time and slammed on the brakes. Everyone on the bus went forward with the momentum of the big bus sliding to a halt, inches from the car. Just as we all breathed a collective sigh of relief, we were hit from behind by another bus. The impact was strong enough that I ended up in the aisle on my knees. Several other passengers suffered bumps and bruises. One woman had a bloody nose.

A couple of children cried. We all sat stunned until the driver told us to exit the bus. Traffic was stopped as the impact had driven our bus into the stalled car and it had jolted slightly into the right hand lane. Everyone stepped down from the bus and walked along the narrow shoulder to a nearby bus stop. I felt a pain in my lower back/upper hip region. As is the custom here, none of the principals involved in the collision moved until a Transito arrived to make a report.

Several of us were gathered at the bus stop. Eventually traffic resumed and I caught another bus into the city. The pain in my lower back slowly eased and then went away over the next few weeks. I wondered if anyone else on the bus– say the woman with the bloody nose– sought legal help for damages. I doubted it.

Had this happened elsewhere, especially in the US, there may well have been multiple lawsuits for pain and suffering. But here, the company that owned the bus line was shuttling us in a model from the previous century, and the bus that struck ours was equally well-used.

I imagined these companies operated on a thin margin, and a lawsuit involving 40 passengers could hamper their cash flow, if not put them out of business entirely. Besides, opportunistic lawsuits filed by people who ride the bus to get around just don’t happen here. At the end of the day, we all went our separate ways, with a good story to tell over the afternoon cup of coffee.

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