Common Carrier Law Overview

A common carrier is a company that provides public transportation. Specifically, it is any transportation company that has entered into a contract (or that offers itself up as available to enter into a contract) to transport any people, property, or goods across state lines or to transport them around within state lines as a publicly available service. The rules and regulations that govern common carriers are numerous, and commonly hold these companies responsible for injuries that occur to passengers in transit or pedestrians injured by a common carrier vehicle.

Laws Make Common Carriers Legal Liable for Injuries

Although the federal government has passed laws regulating common carriers, public transportation is typically controlled by the states.  In most states, a public transit vehicle is held the highest degree of care, diligence, and vigilance in the transport of its passengers to the appropriate destination.  Should the carrier agency fail in its duty of care, it will be liable for personal injuries passengers suffer as a result of negligence.  Common carriers are also considered to be liable for any damage to property that is entrusted to them as a result of their work, and they typically carry insurance policies that will help in the event of loss or damage to the goods.

A common carrier also has a duty to warn its passengers of known dangers that exist in the type of transportation they operate - such as, standing in an aisle of a moving vehicle liable to sudden jolts in motion. If a passenger reasonably could see that such a problem may occur, the carrier may not be liable or may be subject to only partial liability, depending on the nature of the danger and the age/experience of the passenger.

Exceptions to Common Carrier Liability

A short list of exceptions may allow a common carrier to be absolved of its responsibility in the case of an accident. For example, common carriers may not be held responsible for an act of nature. Because no one can control acts of nature, common carriers are not expected to do so either. Other exceptions may involve acts of public enemies (robbing or pirating), shipper negligence or fraud, or proven defects in the goods being transported. As with the regulations, exceptions are rooted in state law and will differ, but generally only apply in limited circumstances that the common carrier could not control.

Liability of Common Carriers for Lost Luggage 

There are specific laws in place that prevent a common carrier from totally relieving itself of liability for lost luggage. Your personal property is protected to some extent when you purchase a ticket or enter into a contract to have them transport you. As such, you cannot be deprived of your right to recover a claim for lost luggage or damaged personal property, and the common carrier cannot require you to give up that right.

However, this does not mean that the common carrier cannot limit its liability in the case of loss or damage. For example, the common carrier can limit its liability to the replacement cost for the pieces of lost luggage, or to a flat monetary fee, without being in violation of the law.  In this way, a customer who leaves a $10,000 gold bracelet in a piece of luggage that is lost is unlikely to recover the whole cost of the bracelet.

Removal From a Common Carrier

Common carrier companies take the responsibilities of safety and regulations very seriously, and will not allow behavior that violates their stated safety policies and procedures. There are any number of reasons for ejection from a common carrier, and you can usually look at the back of the ticket that you have purchased for examples.

While the precise reasons for removal may vary, in addition to the reasons listed above, if you refuse to abide by any of the restrictions or regulations listed on the ticket that you have purchased to ride the common carrier, or if you have a medical condition that would prevent you from being safely transported via the common carrier, you can be asked to leave the common carrier. Generally, if there is a circumstance that would result in you being ejected from a common carrier, you will have your fare refunded and your passage on the common carrier denied. 

Getting Help - Legal Issues with Common Carriers and Public Transportation

If you have been involved in any type of accident on a common carrier, it is imperative that you consult with a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. The common carrier may be liable under the law for your damages, and a lawyer can help you to assess whether you have a claim.