Common carriers like trucks, buses, taxis, and passenger trains are held to a higher standard of care. When a common carrier is negligent, the company or driver is liable for injuries.
Common Carrier Liability for Accidents and Injuries
Common carriers include commercial vehicles such as buses, taxicabs, and trucks, as well as passenger trains, commercial airplanes, and cruise ships. Common carriers are held to a high standard of care for people and property they transport. When common carrier accidents occur, drivers and the companies they work for may be able to be held liable.
Common carrier liability is limited. They are liable for injuries suffered by passengers as a result of a carrier’s negligence but do not ensure passenger safety. Companies and drivers are not responsible for injuries that happen because of causes that are out of their control.
In an Iowa common carrier injury case, the Iowa Supreme Court declined to hold a bus company liable for a child’s injuries when he was hit by a car after safely exiting the school bus. The court stated that the bus company had no duty beyond that owed by a common carrier to protect children from reasonably anticipated dangers. According to limited liability regulations, once a passenger safely exits a common carrier, the carrier has no further responsibility for the passenger. In situations like this, however, injured parties may be able to sue the other driver.
Some common carriers such as passenger planes and trains operate under the authority of a regulatory body which sets standards for passenger safety and other passenger concerns. By law, commercial airlines must adhere to regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
When regulatory standards apply, failing to warn passengers about a potentially dangerous condition can expose carriers to legal actions for accidents and passenger injuries. For example, if a pilot fails to warn passengers of turbulence by failing to turn on the fasten seat belt warning, the airline may face liability for a passenger’s injuries. If a passenger isn’t warned of danger, liability comes down to whether a reasonably careful operator would or should have known about the dangerous condition. Commercial airlines and trains may be sued for injuries caused by failing to exercise reasonable care and diligence to protect passengers or violating federal violations. Exercising “reasonable care” is a key factor in commercial carrier injury cases.
Rules and regulations that govern common carriers can vary. When carriers commonly transport passengers or cargo across state lines, federal regulations usually apply. Public transportation carriers like buses, taxicabs, limousines, and rideshare carriers are usually regulated by state laws. Public transportation carriers have a duty to warn passengers of known dangers that exist in the type of transportation they operate. For example, buses must warn passengers of possible injury from standing in an aisle while the bus is moving. However, if a passenger can reasonably see that potential injury may occur, the carrier may not be liable or may be only partially liable for accidents and injuries.
Commercial airlines, passenger trains, and cruise ships often limit their liability for personal property loss. Personal property is protected to some extent when a passenger purchases a ticket or enters into a contract for transportation. In most cases, property loss can be recovered, but only to a limited dollar amount. Airlines, trains, and cruise ships usually limit their liability for lost or damaged items. A passenger who loses his/her camera, smartphone, luggage, jewelry, items of clothing, or laptop computer will likely only recover a flat monetary fee or partial cost of the property, rather than full replacement value.
Filing an Injury Claim
When a passenger is injured in a common carrier accident, he/she must prove that the company or operator was negligent and that injuries resulted from that negligence. If a bus passenger falls when the bus swerves to avoid a pedestrian or stops suddenly when a child runs into the street, this does not constitute driver negligence. However, if the bus driver is intoxicated or talking on a cell phone or to a passenger when an accident occurs, the driver may be found negligent and be held responsible for passenger injuries.
Common carriers typically respond quickly to accidents. However, drivers and/or passengers injured in other vehicles often delay legal action because they have to fight large companies.
Because public transportation companies are regulated by federal or state agencies, special laws apply to claims brought against them. The statute of limitations for injury claims is usually much shorter (six months or less) than other types of injury claims, and deadlines can vary from state to state. In addition, most states have caps or limits for injury claims against state or municipal agencies.