Even though most people in California have personal vehicles to move around, a lot of people still rely on public transportation (common carriers). And just like personal vehicles, common carriers are prone to accidents.  The unfortunate thing about public transport is that many people tend to get hurt since these carriers accommodate a lot of passengers at a time. Every year there are cases of several people who get hospitalized after sustaining either minor or severe injuries.

When common carrier accidents happen, the responsible parties have to be held liable as per the common carrier law. This law provides that operators of public mass transit systems have to exercise a high-standard and reasonable duty of care towards their passengers. When seeking compensation, you need the help of an experienced personal attorney. He/she may help you gather the required evidence for your case as you recover or help you through the process of filing the claim. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we help victims of common carrier accidents get what they deserve for their injuries, losses, or damages. This article expounds on what the common carrier law requires in case of an accident.

What Does a Common Carrier Mean as per California Law?

California law defines a common carrier as any company or person whose business is to transport passengers or goods on regular routes at a cost. This includes public-owned transportation companies like those that own buses and trains. Privately-owned transportation companies like those that manage taxis, airlines, tour buses, private charter buses, etc.are also common carriers. A county or city may own public transportation companies. 

Generally, common carriers have a contract for transporting property, passengers, or goods within or outside the state as public services. Before any company is approved as a common carrier, there are several factors that the law usually considers.  They include, among others:

  • The entity should be established purposely for transporting passengers, goods, or property from one place to another
  • The carrying of passengers, products, or property from one point to another is to be at a cost
  • The company must introduce itself to the public as a transportation company

Note that transportation companies don’t need to have fixed schedules of arrival or departure to qualify as common carriers. For instance, tour or chartered buses usually do not have set schedules.

As we said earlier, common carriers are inclusive of cruise ships, buses, trains, planes, and taxis. However, in California, ski lifts, elevators, amusement parks, and escalators can also be common carriers.

Common Carrier Law in California

California’s common carrier statute elaborates clearly on the duty of care concerning common carries. Civil Code 2100 requires common carriers to use maximum diligence and care for safe transportation of their goods, passengers, or property. This code also requires common carries to provide all the requirements necessary for safe carriage, and should also exercise to the end, a reasonable level of skill in the process. This means common carriers have to provide a secure environment for their passengers as well as other road users. If these carriers do not adhere to this law, it usually leads to accidents that leave the passengers injured. To sum it all up, bus companies, which are common carriers must:

  • Have vehicles fit for any duties they are set to carry out
  • Be civil towards their passengers
  • Accord their passengers a reasonable level of attention
  • Give their passengers suitable accommodation, including accommodation for the elderly and the disabled.
  • Warn passengers if there is any known danger in or surrounding the bus
  • Not be operated erratically, and neither should drivers make any sudden stops
  • Screen and make sure their employees go through proper training
  • Safeguard their passengers from any harm, including  injuries from other passengers

Common Carrier Liability

As compared to other motorists, common carriers are held to higher standards of care towards the passengers, goods, or property they are transporting. Thus, if the passengers or other persons suffer injuries, or the goods or property get damaged, negligence can be determined, and then the negligent party held liable.

Common reasons why common carrier crashes happen include overworked or tired drivers, improperly trained drivers, and poorly maintained or serviced equipment. Other reasons include:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Drowsiness or sleeping while driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Outdated or defective equipment
  • Driver carelessness
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Poorly-maintained roads

Buses should make sure that they fire drivers who don’t do their duties properly to prevent possible accidents. Bus companies also have to maintain their buses in good conditions. They should make sure the bus equipment is safe and in good working condition. Bus companies should also do thorough and regular vehicle inspections as well as repairs.

The latest vehicle equipment, including advanced safety standards, has to be fitted. Should the failure or negligence of a common carrier result in injuries to passengers, the responsible parties will be held accountable. The injured party may then be entitled to recover damages for the loss or damages he/she went through.

Under the common carrier law, the duty of care starts when an individual expresses the intention of boarding the bus, or when the motorist accepts the individual to be their passenger. The moment a person becomes a bus passenger, he or she places himself/herself under the control of the bus company. Therefore, the company or motorist must assume the duty of care toward the passenger.

Determining liability can be complicated when talking about common carrier crashes. This is because several other parties may have contributed to the accident. Thus, it’s not always immediately apparent who is to blame since there could be unseen parties that are responsible for a crash they didn’t personally witness. In the case of a bus accident, here are the various hidden parties that could be blamed for a crash apart from the driver:

  • Bus owner
  • Bus company
  • Maintenance company
  • The bus manufacturer and the manufacturer of its parts
  • Local government
  • School board (if it is a school bus)
  • State government

A common carrier (bus) may be found responsible for the injuries of a boarding passenger if it:

  • Does not maintain safe climbing steps
  • Starts off the vehicle before that passenger is securely onboard or before he/she alights from the bus
  • Starts the automobile before that passenger is seated safely
  • Tries to load or offload the passenger in a risky place
  • Closes the door on the passenger

The bus company’s duty of care comes to an end when its passengers safely alight at their destinations and are not exposed to the dangers of the bus’s operation anymore. Liability extends beyond passengers who are on board the bus to include those at bus stations. This is because accidents may also happen at a bus station.  Therefore, this means that bus companies are also responsible for ensuring their bus stations are adequately maintained. The driver, on the other hand, should ensure the vehicle is stopped at a secure place for the passengers to alight or board. Also, they should perform their duties like stopping or starting the bus at the right time to avoid causing any harm to the alighting or boarding passengers.

School Bus Crashes

Most school buses are not fitted with seat belts, while those that have been properly equipped with seat belts don’t need the pupils to wear them strictly. In these cases, when an accident occurs or the motorist suddenly holds the brake, pupils sustain injuries when they are thrown out of their seats. The injuries may be severe, and they could sometimes lead to wrongful deaths. In many cases, the drivers of the school buses are held responsible for the accidents that involve the children. This is because these motorists owe a duty of care to the pupils.

However, because it is the government that employs most of these drivers, drivers might have the protection of the policies of sovereign immunity. This may lead to complications and confusion since you won’t be dealing one on one with the bus motorist but with the government organization accountable for the driver’s employment.

Statute of Limitations

As a complainant, you have to adhere to the stipulated deadlines for filing a lawsuit. These deadlines are provided for in the statute of limitations. Generally, you have two years to bring a personal injury claim against the at-fault party. But, if the responsible party is a government organization, then you only have six months to do so. This period is counted from the day the accident took place. Failure to bring your claim on time will make you lose that right, which means you won’t be compensated.

In some instances, the court will permit the tolling of the statute of limitations. The various reasons why it would do this include:

  • The victim’s physical or mental incapacitation
  • The injury didn’t reveal itself until much later after the accident
  • The injured victim is a minor - A victim who is below eighteen years has two years from their birthday to make a personal injury lawsuit

Exceptions to Liability in Common Carrier Accidents

We have various exceptions that permit bus drivers, owners, and company to be excused of their accountability in case of a crash. For instance, this may happen in a situation where the collision took place because of natural conditions like adverse weather conditions. This is because nobody can control the occurrences of nature. This also applies to other common carriers. Incidents like robbery, piracy, shipper negligence, passenger negligence, or carjacking are also other factors that excuse the parties mentioned above of their responsibility. The law recognizes these exceptions, and they apply only in cases that are out of control for the common carrier.

Reasonable Duty of Care to a Third Party

Note that the duty of care the bus companies, drivers, owners, etc. should exercise isn’t only applied toward the bus passengers but also other parties who use the road. These parties may include motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and even other drivers. The same rules that apply to other vehicles also apply to buses. For example, a bus driver should act with reasonable care if he/she knows he/she is driving so close to pedestrians. Reasonable care and diligence could be demonstrated by slowing down or putting extra focus while driving.

Showing Negligence in Common Carrier Accidents

When talking about common carrier accidents, two of the primary issues surrounding personal injury cases involve negligence and injuries. Common carriers have to accord the highest level of care and safety to its passengers regardless of whether these passengers are on a long or short distance trip. The government of California regulates this responsibility, and all common carriers in the state should adhere to them while transporting passengers.

If a common carrier fails to follow this law, they will be considered to be negligent. Negligence is one of the main reasons why common carrier accidents occur in California. For your personal injury claim against a common carrier to be successful, you have to prove that the carrier operator or company was negligent. To prove negligent, you have to establish four elements. You must show that:

  • The liable party owed you a duty of care
  • The party breached the duty, for example, by driving while intoxicated, fatigued, or at high speeds
  • The breaching of that duty resulted in your injuries
  • You suffered damages due to the liable party’s negligence

Generally, a common carrier’s carelessness can be substantiated by proving that they violated the laws of the road. You can also prove negligence by establishing that the driver did not act with reasonable diligence and care that was expected of him/her under the circumstances. If you can show this, then the responsible party may be held accountable for your injuries.

The theory of strict liability doesn’t apply to common carriers. This means you will need hard and valid proof of the common carrier’s negligence, to show that they violated the law or did not act with reasonable care.  Evidence generally plays a substantial role in a negligence lawsuit. Possible proof could be:

  • Eyewitness testimony - For example, another passenger of the bus or a bystander may have witnessed the driver of the bus sneaking alcohol or drugs to the bus. Or, they may have seen the driver commit any other negligent act that could help you win your case.
  • Expert witness testimony - You can approach an expert witness to help explain how the carrier’s alleged negligence caused the accident that resulted in your injuries. Note that the at-fault party might also use an expert witness to help them prove they acted reasonably. Therefore, you should consult a skilled attorney who may refer you to the best expert witness there is to help you.
  • Images- Photographs of an extremely steep and possibly dangerous stairway on a bus, cruise ship, etc., while there is no warning sign to passengers could provide crucial proof. It could show that the carrier’s management was negligent as it failed to warn the passengers of the possible danger.
  • Inspection records- A bus’ inspection records may require an installation of new gears, but the carrier’s management ignores this. In this case, the management can be held responsible for any harm that would arise due to gear failure.
  • Negligence per se- A bus driver, for example, may knowingly overlook company or roadway regulations resulting in accidents. In this case, the driver will be held accountable for any resulting injuries.

Compensation in Common Carrier Accidents

As earlier said, common carrier crashes could cause severe, long-lasting injuries that may bring a lot of damage and loss. For instance, they may result in disabilities, lead to substantial medical bills, loss of wages, and rehabilitation expenses. In unfortunate scenarios, the injuries may lead to the wrongful death of the victim.

If you incur these losses, you will need to be compensated for you to cater for the bills you are facing and get back on your feet. However, you cannot be compensated if the at-fault party isn’t identified or the necessary proof gathered to show their negligence. That is why you should retain the services of an experienced personal injury attorney. The attorney will evaluate all the aspects of your case and determine whether you have a valid claim. He/she may also be able to help you collect the proof you need to prove your case, so you concentrate on getting treated.

At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we have dedicated ourselves and the resources we have to help the victims of common carrier accidents get justice. Our attorneys will recreate the accident scene, determine the cause of the crash, and the parties responsible for that accident, which will help build a solid case.

How an Attorney Will Help You Investigate Common Carrier Accident Cases

For common carrier accident cases that lead to severe injuries or damage, comprehensive investigations have to be carried out. If you reach out to a lawyer at The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, he/she may help you hire a private investigator to analyze the accident scene.   The investigator may find any proof that may help your case. The analysis of the accident scene should be done as quickly as possible.  This is because it takes only a short period for evidence like skids to fade off or for the wind to blow away the debris. In other cases, the property owner whose hazardous conditions resulted in the crash may tamper with proof.

Therefore, in case an accident reconstruction professional accesses the scene on time, he/she can collect the needed evidence. He/she can also assist the law enforcement officers in creating an accurate report about the accident, which could help you have a solid case. Other experts your attorney can help you hire to assist in building a strong case include:

  • Biomedical engineers
  • Mechanical engineers
  • Photogrammetry experts
  • Human factor experts

These parties can help gather the correct proof as well as testify before the jury. Apart from the evidence from all these experts, you should also provide medical reports of the treatment you went through. These will be able to prove the severity and extent of your injuries.

Our lawyers understand the pain, suffering, and loss you can experience after being involved in an accident, and they may successfully help you through all of this. After a bus crash, your life might change dramatically, and sometimes forever. For this, you deserve to be fairly compensated by the party or parties that failed to use reasonable care towards you.

Personal injury law in California allows victims that have been wrongly injured due to an accident to seek to recover damages for their losses and injuries. This law also covers the surviving members of the family of the victims who die due to bus accidents. When you have our attorneys at your side, you can be sure of getting the best possible outcome for your case.

Damages in Common Carrier Accidents

Victims of common carrier crashes have the right to recovery for all the losses they incur due to the negligence of someone else. If your claim is successful, you may recover compensation for:

  • Medical expenses (past, current, and future)
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Therapy costs
  • Lost or reduced wages
  • Disability costs (both temporary and permanent disability)
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages- where the liable party displayed the intention to harm or acted recklessly in disregard for your life or safety.
  • Funeral and burial expenses in case of a wrongful death
  • Loss of consortium
  • Emotional distress
  • Mental anguish

Contact a Common Carrier Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

If you’ve been injured due to a crash involving a common carrier, you have a right to be compensated. At The Personal Injury Attorney Law Firm, we believe that common carriers should exercise extreme measures to make sure that the passengers, goods, or property they transport reach their destinations safely.

Should you get injured in a common carrier accident in California, call us at 619-625-8707. We work with personal injury victims throughout the state to make sure they have been compensated. Our mission is to help you get back on your feet after incurring much loss and damage, and we won’t stop trying until you’ve received what you deserve.  Contact us to schedule a free consultation so you can learn more.