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What is a Common Carrier?

If you have ever spent time on a bus, taxicab, commercial airplane, passenger train, or cruise ship, you have been on a common carrier. In the United States, a common carrier (or simply "carrier") is an entity whose business transports people or goods from one place to another for a fee. Even amusement parks may be considered common carriers in some states, such as California. Carriers may be held liable for the injuries of passengers, but only if the plaintiff can prove negligence.

This article provides a brief overview of common carrier liability and the importance of evidence in common carrier cases.

Common Carrier Liability

Carriers, such as tour buses and passenger jets, offer their services to the public under the authority of a regulatory body, which sets standards for safety and other passenger concerns. Commercial airlines, for example, must adhere to the regulations set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Regulations or not, carriers are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in the safety of their passengers and/or cargo.

The failure to warn passengers about a potentially dangerous condition also can expose carriers to legal action. For example, an airline may be held liable for a passenger's injuries if the pilot failed to turn on the fasten seatbelt sign after noticing heavy turbulence. Liability for failure to warn comes down to the question of whether a reasonably careful operator would have known or should have known about the dangerous condition.

Therefore, a carrier can be sued for injuries for either failing to adhere to a particular regulation (if it was the cause of the injury) or failing to exercise the care and diligence that would be expected of a reasonably careful operator.

See FindLaw's articles on Tour Bus Accidents and Liability and Cruise Ship Accidents and Liability for more specific information about common carrier liability.

Common Carrier Accidents: The Importance of Evidence

In order to prove a carrier's fault in a negligence case, plaintiffs must show:

  • 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 failing to remove ice from the wings of an airplane that later made an emergency landing, causing injuries)
  • The breach was the proximate 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 to the plaintiff, evidence typically plays a key role in a negligence claim. Potential evidence may be:

  • Expert witness testimony: The plaintiff may use an expert witness to explain how an injury had to have been caused by the carrier's supposed negligence, while the carrier also may use expert witnesses to prove they acted in a reasonable manner.
  • Eyewitness testimony: A fellow passenger of a tour bus, for example, may have personally witnessed the bus driver sneaking drinks from a flask prior to an accident.
  • Negligence per se: A cruise ship knowingly circumvents Coast Guard regulations, for instance, resulting in passenger injuries.
  • Images: A photograph of a particularly steep and potentially dangerous staircase on a cruise ship, in the absence of signage warning passengers, might provide important evidence of a carrier's failure to warn.
  • Inspection records: If an airplane's inspection records urge the installation of new landing gear, but the carrier ignores this, the carrier could be held liable for any injuries related to a landing gear failure.

Injured on a Common Carrier? Get Legal Help Today

Accidents on common carriers are relatively uncommon but can still happen to anyone at any time. These types of claims range from a foodborne illness aboard a cruise ship to wrongful death associated with a downed jetliner. Attorneys can be costly, but often the cost of not having legal representation is much, much higher.

Speak with a local personal injury lawyer specializing in common carrier claims to find out more about your legal options.

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