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What Is a Common Carrier?

When traveling on a bus, riding in a taxicab, or flying on a commercial airplane, you are on a common carrier. A carrier may be liable for their passengers' injuries and, if so, must pay medical bills. But they are liable only if the plaintiff can prove negligence. Read on for a brief overview of common carrier liability and the importance of evidence in common carrier cases.

Examples of Common Carriers

A common carrier is a business or agency available as public transportation. A common carrier may also transport goods or messages. The carrier can be public or private. For example, a bus company like Greyhound holds itself out to the general public. But a tech company's shuttle is private only for employees.

Under personal injury law, there are many common carriers. Some examples include:

  • Amusement parks
  • Couriers
  • Insurance companies
  • Ride-share companies (Uber, Lyft, etc.)
  • Shipping and freight companies (trucking, railroads, cargo, air freight, etc.)
  • Transportation services/transportation companies (mass transit, planes, trains, motor vehicles, bus companies, limousines, taxis, etc.)
  • Utility companies and telecommunication companies
  • Waste removal companies

Common Carrier Liability

A common carrier that services the general public must meet the safety standards of its regulatory body. For example, a commercial airline must comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. On top of regulations, carriers must act with the highest degree of care for their passengers and goods.

Failure to warn about a potentially dangerous condition may trigger a lawsuit from a passenger with an injury claim. An airline might be liable for a passenger's injuries if the pilot failed to switch to the "fasten seatbelt" sign after weather conditions changed. In essence, liability for failure to warn is about a reasonable standard of care. The carrier can be held liable if it is reasonable for them to know about the dangerous condition. The actor can be held liable if they do not use reasonable care.

So, an accident victim can sue the carrier for two reasons:

  1. Failing to conform to a specific regulation (if it was the actual cause of the injury)
  2. Failing to exercise the duty of care and diligence expected of a reasonably careful operator

Common Carrier Accidents: The Importance of Evidence

For a personal injury case, to prove a carrier's fault in a negligence case, plaintiffs must show the following:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty. Common carriers must exercise the utmost care and diligence with respect to their passengers.
  • The defendant breached that duty (such as by failing to remove ice from the wings of an airplane that later made an emergency landing, causing injuries).
  • The breach was the direct and foreseeable cause of the plaintiff's injury; if not for the breach, the injury would not have occurred.
  • The plaintiff suffered damages (usually physical injuries, but could also be emotional distress or loss of wages).

Since the legal theory of strict liability does not apply to common carriers, meaning the plaintiff must show a breach of the carrier's duty, evidence typically plays a key role in a negligence claim. Potential evidence may include:

  • Expert witness testimony: The plaintiff may use expert witnesses to describe how their injury had to have been due to the carrier's supposed negligence. The carrier may also use expert witnesses to prove they acted reasonably.
  • Eyewitness testimony: tour bus passenger may have personally witnessed the driver using controlled substances before a bus accident, for instance.
  • Negligence per se: An airline may be held liable for a passenger's injuries if a pilot fails to comply with air traffic regulations.
  • Images: A photo of a potentially dangerous staircase on a cruise ship, without signage warning passengers, might provide substantial evidence of the cruise line's failure to warn.
  • Inspection records: If a bus company's inspection records advise the installation of new brakes, but they don't install them, the carrier could be held liable for any injuries related to a brake failure accident.

Injured on a Common Carrier? Get Legal Help Today

Accidents on common carriers are rare but can happen to anyone at any time. These claims range from a food-borne virus on a cruise ship buffet to wrongful death associated with a ferry accident. Attorneys can be costly, but accident attorneys often provide a free initial consultation and work on contingency. The cost of not having legal representation is much higher.

If you need legal advice, act now. Speak with a local personal injury lawyer with experience in common carrier law to learn more about your or your loved one's legal options.

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