Common Carrier Accidents
In legal terminology common carriers are those that transport members of the public, typically for a fee. While a common carrier does not guarantee the safety of its passengers, it must use reasonable skill to provide everything necessary for safe transportation. Common carriers must use the highest care and the vigilance of a very cautious person. They must do all that human care, vigilance, and foresight reasonably can do under the circumstances to avoid harm to passengers.
Historians disagree about the exact origin of the legal theory, with some scholars placing its roots in the English common law tradition which demanded absolute liability for damage to goods carried by public means and others tracing the rule to early American jurisprudence. Regardless, there is general agreement that in American common law, the rule that carriers for hire must use the utmost care in their task stems largely from an 1830s era Supreme Court case which held that a stagecoach operator was expected to transport his charges as safely as human care and foresight made possible.
With this holding, American law adopted the legal theory that common carriers could be held financially liable for accidents for any, even the slightest, negligence. This rule creates a higher standard of care on the part of people who transport other people for pay. Contrast this with the lesser duty of ordinary care that is applied to those who are not deemed common carriers.
Who Is a Common Carrier?
While defining exactly who is a common carrier is not always an easy task, the following factors are taken into consideration:
- Whether the carrier maintains a regular place of business for the purpose of transporting passengers.
- Whether the carrier advertises its services to the general public.
- Whether the carrier charges standard fees for its services
The following types of transportation operators have, at times, been held to the higher standard of a common carrier:
- Elevators and Escalators
- Trams and Skyways
- Animal drawn transportation
- Animal rides
- Roller Coasters and other amusement rides
While this list is by no means complete, it should give you some idea of the wide range of transportation services that may be subject to common carrier liability.
The reasoning behind the application of a higher legal standard of care is fairly simple. Common carriers are professional transporters upon whom the general public routinely relies for safety. It would not be feasible for each person who boarded a boat or train or for every potential taxi passenger to personally inspect every vehicle or the credentials and safety record of every driver they engaged. If the law required this level of investigation, fewer people would take the risk of utilizing public transportation.
Faced with greater potential liability for their mistakes, common carriers must try harder to keep their fares safe. This not only encourages increased use of common carriers (which helps to drive commerce), but also reduces avoidable accidents to everyones benefit. The justification for imposing this burden on the carrier rests in the nature of the transaction. Over the years, the law has concluded that it makes the most sense to put the risk of injury on the party most able to mitigate that risk. Not only do common carriers stand to make money on their transaction, but they are also best positioned to ensure that their transportation is properly maintained, carefully used, and otherwise safely operated. In other words, between a driver and a passenger, the driver is best able to make the trip a safe one.
Determining how to proceed with a case against a possible common carrier depends on the specific facts of the case. While all common carriers share heightened legal standards of liability, they fall into a number of sub-classes each with their own sets of issues. For example, a case against a cruise line will proceed differently than a case against an amusement park. Furthermore, different state and Federal laws may apply in in a given case and not every state recognizes the same list of common carriers. For accidents involving transportation across state lines these distinctions can become particularly important.
As you can see, common carrier injury cases have the capacity to become very complex. Overlapping forums, and providers of insurance, differing state rules, and a host of related legal considerations make pursuing these types of cases particularly challenging. For this reason, you should seek an attorney with specific experience handling not only common carrier suits but also experience with the particular type of accident in question.
Specific Case Types
For more details on some of the specific categories of common carrier accidents in which we specialize, please refer to the following list (click the links to read more about each category).
If you have the need for a Personal Injury Attorney that specializes in Common Carrier Accident cases call the Law Offices of Donald S. Sjaarda at 714-963-8216 for prompt attention to your case.
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