Many different types of public transportation increase the number of personal injuries. Public transportation refers to modes of transportation that are owned and operated by the city or other government agencies for the use of the general public. Common forms of transportation include:

  • Public buses
  • Public ferries
  • Subways and trolleys

Federal law defines a “bus” as a vehicle capable of carrying ten or more passengers. The laws for government-owned buses are different from the laws that involve privately owned transportation such as boats or helicopters.

Do the Drivers of Public Transportation Have a Duty to Me?

Public transportation drivers have a number of responsibilities, and a failure to uphold those responsibilities may result in injuries. Alternatively, some responsibilities may be more important than others, so the drivers must exercise proper judgment to ensure safety at all times. These responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Aiding elderly and/or disabled passengers
  • Maintaining vehicle and equipment properly
  • Keeping the vehicle clean
  • Keeping their regular schedules
  • Releasing passengers safely and close to their destinations
  • Driving the vehicles in a safe manner

These responsibilities establish an obligation to any number of persons. Although drivers are obligated to take care of their passengers, drivers are also obligated to protect pedestrians, even if the pedestrians are not passengers.

What is Common Carrier Law?

Suppose you’re injured while on public transportation, such as a bus, train, or subway. You may be entitled to make a claim against the public transportation company that runs the transport line. Most personal injury cases are based on negligence rules, meaning the injured person must prove that the defendant was negligent in order to win the case.

Public transportation injury law is still based on negligence, but public transportation companies in some states are subject to “common carrier” laws. Common carriers are the legal term for people or businesses that provide public transportation. They usually include public buses, trains, trolleys, and taxis. Common carriers may also include school buses and private limousine companies, depending on the state.

In many states, common carriers owe their passengers a higher degree of care than the average person does. An injured person must still prove that the public transportation company was negligent in order to win their case, but in many states, common carriers are said to owe their passengers the highest degree of care to provide safe methods of transportation.

It is a common carrier’s duty to act reasonably and take care of their passengers. That duty is greater than the average person’s duty to act reasonably. In some states, common carrier law only applies to injuries that occur in the course of the common carrier’s operation of its vehicle. For example, injuries that occur during the common carrier’s operation of its vehicles would include injuries while a bus, train, or taxi is moving. In other states, however, common carriers owe this higher duty of care in all circumstances, even if someone slips and falls in the strain station or is injured on a broken bench on a subway.

Even though common carriers owe a higher duty of care, injured persons must always prove negligence. For example, if you are standing on a public bus and the bus swerves or stops short, and you get thrown to the floor and injured, this does not necessarily mean that the bus driver was negligent. Just because you were injured doesn’t mean that negligence has occurred. If a child ran into the street unexpectedly and the bus driver had been driving at a reasonably safe speed before the child darted out, the bus driver may be found to be not at fault. However, if the accident occurred because the bus driver had been distracted or talking to a passenger, the bus driver would likely be found to be negligent.

These are good examples of the higher duty of care that common carriers owe to passengers in some states. When a regular person drives, they often talk to passengers. However, common carrier law states that public bus drivers owe a higher duty of care to passengers than the average driver, so they must drive more safely than the average person. Bus drivers cannot talk with their passengers while the bus is moving because they cannot be even the slightest bit negligent in the operation of the vehicle.

Do I Have to Be an Actual Passenger?

No. Injuries can happen to pedestrians that are not actually passengers in a public transportation vehicle.

For example, a bus may hit you in an intersection through no fault of your own. If the bus is found to be driving recklessly or negligently, you may still bring a personal injury lawsuit against the person who owns the vehicle.

What Is a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?

A wrongful death suit is a lawsuit brought by a family member of the deceased victim against the person or company who caused the death. In the case of a wrongful death caused by a public transportation accident, the victim’s family would bring suit against the city or other government agencies.

Can I Sue the Driver?

Although suing the employer is typically the smartest option, the employer will have more money than the driver, thereby ensuring a larger reward after the case is over.

However, if the court finds that the driver was acting outside the scope of his or her employment, such as taking an unscheduled break or coming to work while intoxicated, the employer cannot be liable. In those cases, suing the driver would have to be a priority assuming that the driver has insurance to draw upon.

Is the Driver Responsible for Criminal Activity on the Vehicle?

The driver is only responsible for criminal activity if the driver could foresee a crime or if the driver could directly prevent the crime from happening or continuing. For example, a sudden assault and battery on a driver while the bus is in motion may not be foreseeable or directly preventable.

On the other hand, while rape in the back of the bus may not be foreseeable, it is directly preventable by the driver, and thus the driver may have an obligation to stop the crime.

Can I Sue the Government?

Generally speaking, you can sue the government for wrongful death if the city or other government agency was negligent. Up until recently, government entities enjoyed immunity from lawsuits, so it was impossible to sue them. Now it is possible to sue government entities for negligently caused injuries or damages.

However, cities, states, and the federal government all have their own specific rules for bringing a lawsuit against them. To bring a claim against the government, you must give notice to the government before you can sue for personal injury. The government has a specific time period where they can settle with you.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Pursue My Wrongful Death Claim?

If your loved one died in a public transportation accident, you should immediately speak to a wrongful death lawyer to learn more about preserving your rights and remedies. An experienced personal injury lawyer can explain the value of your case and help you navigate the complicated legal process.