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Passenger Injury Claims in California

February 4, 2014

Passenger Injury Claims in California Passenger injury claims in California can arise whenever a person has paid a fee to be transported from one place to another with the trip originating or finalizing in the Golden State. California is a travel hub and destination for many hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. People enjoy traveling to sunny San Diego, LA (aka “la la land”) and the San Francisco Bay Area for fun and relaxation. Because California is also the most populous state in the U.S. with a recorded population of almost 34 million souls, there is a tremendous amount of traveling that goes on inside the state as well especially in large urban areas like Los Angeles. Many of these trips are taken by passengers who pay a fare to be transported from one place to another by way of automobiles, taxi cabs, limos, trains (including commuter rails) and airplanes. Accidents involving passengers in these modes of transport can and do happen on an all too frequent basis. These can include everything from slip and falls in aisles or walkways to major traffic collision pile ups. When these mishaps occur, what does Cal. law say about the rights of commuters and patrons of these transport companies?

Legal Definition of a Common Carrier Under California Law

Based upon a long history of legal precedent, tort law in California defines certain entities that meet a set criteria as “common carriers”. The legal definition of this term includes elements as follows:

  • Regular Place of Business: A carrier must maintain a regular place of business for transporting travelers.
  • Advertising: The entity must advertise its services to the general public.
  • Standard Fees: The business must have standard fees or fares that it charges patrons to be transported from point A to point B.

Interestingly enough, the laws of the State of California do not require that the business have a regular schedule of departures, fixed route or even a transportation license to be considered a “common carrier”. In my opinion as a California personal injury attorney, this definition is very broad and could include many businesses charged with transporting customers for a set fee including airliners, boats and cruise ships, car services, commercial buses (like Greyhound or private charter bus companies), public transportation (like METRO and BART services), limousines, taxis, and even the ride sharing services that have begun to surface in L.A. and San Francisco and other areas of CA like Uber, Lyft and similar entities.

What is the Significance of Being a Common Carrier for Purposes of Personal Injury Claims?

California (like many other jurisdictions) holds companies that transport passengers to a higher standard of care than the average person driving their vehicle down the street. In a traffic collision involving a driver who is not acting on behalf of a transit business, the standard is whether the driver acted in a reasonable manner as proscribed by common standards including those set forth in the California Vehicle Code for typical Class “C” motor vehicle licensees. However, for drivers and owners of companies in the business of transporting patrons, the standard is higher as follows:

“Common carriers must carry passengers safely. 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.

While a common carrier does not guarantee the safety of its passengers, it must use reasonable skill to provide everything necessary for safe transportation, in view of the transportation used and the practical operation of the business.” California Civil Jury Instruction 902 – Duty of Common Carrier

This mandates a higher duty on the part of these transporter entities to properly screen and hire drivers, train drivers on safe operation procedures and protocol (in compliance with state and federal transportation guidelines) and to inspect and maintain their equipment and vehicles in safe manner. This is above and beyond the normal reasonableness standards under California negligence laws. In fact, California legal standards specifically require the following:

Duty to Inspect and Maintain Equipment: “Common carriers must use the highest care in constructing, servicing, inspecting, and maintaining their vehicles and equipment for transporting passengers. A common carrier is responsible for a defect in its vehicles and equipment used for transporting passengers [or property] if the common carrier:

  • Created the defect
  • Knew of the defect
  • Would have known of the defect if it had used the highest care

“Common carriers must keep up with modern improvements in transportation. While they are not required to seek out and use every new invention, they must adopt commonly accepted safety designs and devices in the vehicles and equipment they use for transporting passengers.” California Civil Jury Instruction 903 – Duty to Provide and Maintain Safe Equipment.”

Duty to Disabled or Infirm Passengers: “If a common carrier voluntarily accepts an ill or a disabled person as a passenger and is aware of that person’s condition, it must use as much additional care as is reasonably necessary to ensure the passenger’s safety.” California Civil Jury Instruction 904

Duties to Child Passengers: “If a common carrier voluntarily accepts a child as a passenger, it must use as much additional care as is reasonably necessary to ensure the child’s safety.” California Civil Jury Instruction 905 – Duty of Common Carriers Toward Minor Passengers

Duty to Prevent or Reduce Harm From Assaults by Fellow Riders: Normally, businesses in CA are not responsible for criminal assaults and batteries unless these are foreseeable. However, common carriers are held a higher standard in this regard as well. The law states that common carriers (using their higher standard of care) may be liable if they know or should know that an assault is about to occur and fail to either prevent or reduce the harm caused by such a beating. This is because of the special relationship between the carrier and its passenger.

Importance of Hiring A Personal Injury Lawyer Familiar With Passenger Rights if Injured in California

Because companies who are in the transportation business are held to a higher set of legal standards, it is important to consult and retain legal counsel familiar with these standards if you are injured while traveling in a plane, train or automobile in CA. It is also crucial to retain a passenger injury attorney in California quickly following the event which caused the injury or wrongful death of the rider(s). Evidence must be gathered such as witness statements, physical evidence, photographs of the accident scene at a time which is close in proximity to the event and many other means of proving liability and damages in these cases. In addition, there are strict time deadlines for filing these claims which, if not met, result in a complete loss of the right to assert the claim. This can be as little as 6 months from the date of the incident in the case of public entities.

Related Posts:

What Can I Claim and Against Whom After An Auto Accident in California

Claims Against Company Drivers in California

Bus Accident Claims in California

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