A common carrier is an entity (public or private) that provides transportation services for goods or people at a fee. Common carriers are expected to uphold high standards of care for the products and people they transport. Breaching these standards could lead to liability for the injuries or damages that occur. The Orange County Personal Injury Attorney explains below the common carrier laws in California and their effect on lawsuits related to bus accidents.

Overview of Common Carriers

California residents rely heavily on public transport as a cheaper transport alternative. Common carriers provide these transportation services. They might operate on a fixed schedule or route. However, this is not always necessary. Some carriers, such as tour buses, are available based on the needs of the passengers.

The elements of common carriers in California include:

  • The purpose of the establishment of the entity is to provide transportation for goods and people
  • The entity markets itself as a transportation provider
  • The body provides transportation of people and goods in exchange for a fee

Common carriers must adhere to several regulations governing the acceptance of passengers, the duty of common carriers, and the liability these entities have in case of an accident.

Understanding common carrier laws of California is crucial for your personal injury lawsuit. You will know whom to sue. Liability in common carrier accidents can vary depending on the owner, the negligent party, and the duty of care owed.

California Regulations

California regulates the common carrier industry, including the manufacturing and operation process through the California Public Utilities Commission. Some of these regulations are designed in compliance with federal laws for the same. They include:

  • The manufacturer must install service brakes on every wheel on the vehicle that comes into contact with the road
  • The bus must have either manual or automatic braking mechanisms for use in adverse conditions such as snow or storms
  • Buses without service brakes, automatic or manual braking systems must comply with stopping distance regulations
  • The bus must also have a two-way communication mechanism to allow communication between the driver and motor carrier in case of emergencies. The communication device must be in good working order at all times

Vehicle Inspection Requirements

The law requires that drivers inspect their vehicles before and after a trip. The inspection aims at identifying defects and fixing them before driving again. The recommended areas to check before driving a common carrier include:

Vehicle Systems

Inspecting the vehicle systems helps the driver determine whether the car is ready for the trip, necessary repairs, and problems that might arise. Some of the vehicle systems he or she must check before the trip include:

  • Service and parking brakes
  • The steering mechanisms
  • Mirrors
  • Wipers
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Tires, wheels, and rims
  • Emergency equipment

Access Doors and Panels Including

Lock all access doors and panels before the accident. These include:

  • Emergency exits
  • Restrooms
  • Engines

Bus Interior

The driver must inspect the interior of the bus to determine whether there are damages or problems. Some of the issues to look out for include:

  • Damages to the handhold and railing
  • The floor covering
  • Emergency exit handles
  • Restroom emergency buzzers
  • Other signaling devices
  • The seats (to check that they are firmly secured to the bus)
  • Visible labeling

Roof Hatches

  • The emergency hatches must be locked
  • Some hatches may be left open for ventilation
  • The bus must have a fire extinguisher
  • Emergency reflectors
  • Electric fuses with circuit breakers

Vehicle Loading Requirements

California has weight restrictions and loading requirements to which common carriers must adhere. The loading requirements vary depending on whether the common carrier is transporting goods, people, or both. Some of the things the driver must look out for before the trip include:

  • The baggage or cargo must be secured firmly
  • The aisle must be clear of luggage that could cause passengers to trip
  • The bags must be secured such that the riders can exit through windows, doors, or emergency exits
  • The baggage must be secured such that it will not fall on the passengers
  • The luggage should allow the driver free movement when secured

Hazardous Materials on Buses

Generally, the law restricts buses from carrying hazardous materials. The dangerous materials allowed for buses include:

  • Emergency hospital supplies
  • Oxygen in a container intended for personal use
  • Small arms ammunition (ORM-D)

The bus must inspect passengers to prevent them from boarding with hazardous materials such as gasoline. 

Loading and Unloading

Some bus accidents arise during loading or unloading the bus. The driver must ensure that passengers are safe during the two activities. Some safety precautions include:

  • Ensuring that all passengers are securely on the bus before closing the doors
  • Allowing passengers to sit before driving off before departure
  • Starting and stopping the vehicle smoothly to prevent injuries

When the bus is at its destination or a stop, the driver must announce:

  • The present location
  • The reason for the stop
  • The next departure time
  • The bus number

Before alighting, the driver should remind the passengers to carry their carry-ons and watch out for potential hazards. For chartered buses, the driver should not allow people into the bus until the designated departure time. The restrictions help avoid vandalism of the bus (the bus might be responsible for lost luggage when transporting people or goods).

Drivers of school buses are required to exercise extra safety when loading and unloading students. Some of the ways to ensure the safety of students include:

  • Using the designated stops
  • Slowing down before the stop
  • Turning on indicator lights five to ten seconds before the stop
  • Vigilance during and after the stop to ensure no students, pedestrians or objects are in the way of the bus
  • Making a complete stop leaving enough space to view the movement of the students in or out of the bus
  • Make sure that all students are accounted for before leaving the stop
  • Ensure that students are seated and facing the front before you leave

Passenger Safety

While on the road, the driver should:

  • Remind passengers of the rules such as rules on smoking, drinking and using electronic devices
  • Scan the vehicle while driving
  • Reminding passengers observe safety precautions like keeping their heads in the bus
  • Being vigilant on the road to avoid accidents

When stopping, the driver must make the stop as smooth as possible, warn passengers or potential dangers and drop off passengers at secure areas. Some safe areas to leave passengers include well-lit and populated areas.

Also, you must observe some restrictions to keep passengers safe. These include:

  • Not fueling the bus with passengers on-board unless it is unavoidable (however, you must never fuel the bus with the passengers on board in a closed building)
  • Never tow a bus with passengers on board, if you must, get to the nearest safe place and discharge them

Regulations while Driving

While the driver should supervise passengers to ensure that they are safe, he or she should also remain vigilant and observe traffic laws. Being careful on the road will help avoid common bus accidents. Some regulations governing bus drivers include:

  • Do not engage in conversations with passengers to avoid distractions
  • Watching for hazards, road signals, and other cars to determine when it is safe to enter traffic, take an intersection or accelerate
  • Slowing down to the recommended speed when negotiating a curve
  • Using your mirrors briefly to scan for potential hazards
  • Stop at least 50 feet from drawbridges that do not have a traffic control attendant to make sure the draw is closed before passing. If an attendant is present, or the traffic light is showing green, then you must slow down

Drivers must apply vigilance when crossing railway-highway crossings. Some of the rules to observe in such cases include:

  • Stopping between 15 and 50 feet before a railroad crossing
  • Listening and checking both directions for trains
  • Do not change brakes while crossing railway tracks especially if the bus works on manual transmission
  • Slow down to check for other vehicles at streetcar crossing, abandoned or exempt crossing when the traffic light is green and when a flagman or officer is directing traffic

Vehicle Inspections after the Trip

Checking the vehicle after a trip ensures that you catch potential problems and damages made by passengers. Make an inspection report indicating the condition of the vehicle.

Vehicle inspection after the trip allows time for repairs to remove potential hazards or sources of a breakdown.

Federal Regulations

The federal government has several laws designed to promote the safety of common carriers. Violating these regulations often attracts penalties. If the violations result in injuries or losses to passengers or third parties, then the injured person can file a civil lawsuit against the carrier.

Buses require a commercial driver's license to operate. These licenses are issued after the serious evaluation of the driver to determine whether he or she qualifies. The goal of commercial drivers licensing regulations is to reduce fatalities resulting from accidents by unqualified or underqualified drivers.

Some of the federal regulations include:

  • A commercial driver must have only one commercial driver’s license
  • The driver must notify the employer about certain convictions
  • The driver must provide previous employment records when applying for a job as a commercial driver
  • An employer cannot employ a commercial driver who is on a suspended license
  • The driver must have specific skills and knowledge to operate a commercial motor vehicle

The regulations also cover the maintenance of the vehicle to ensure that every system is running efficiently. Regulations regarding maintenance include:

  • Keeping all the parts necessary for the safety of the vehicle in good working condition
  • Buses must inspect emergency doors and markings and push out windows every 90 days
  • The bus must be operated safely to prevent breakdowns and accidents
  • An authorized party must inspect the bus to ensure that all parts are lubricated as required. The inspection should also check for leaks to correct them

The federal and state governments require that the common carrier keep records of the inspection. The authorized party must update the files after every inspection.

Such records are essential in personal injury lawsuits, especially in identifying the liable party in an accident. If the bus company has failed to keep these records, then their claim of maintaining the vehicle is questionable.

In other cases, the driver inspects the car but is not responsible for the maintenance. If he or she notices a problem with the bus, notifies the employer, but the employer ignores the problem, then the employer is at fault.

Manufacturers of the common carriers and parts are also expected to adhere to the minimum performance requirements. If these parts fall short or are wrongly labeled, then the manufacturer could face a product liability lawsuit after a bus accident.

Also, manufacturers are required to test new models adequately. These models must meet the federal regulations and be based on the tools, materials, and techniques to be used for subsequent models. The manufacturer has to test the safety and usability of the bus before it can be released for use.

Duty of Care

Common carriers have a higher duty of care towards passengers in the bus. They are supposed to uphold the utmost duty of care to passengers.

The utmost duty of care arises due to the nature of the relationship between common carriers and customers. This relationship is based on passengers giving up most of their ability to protect themselves.

Passengers on common carriers have limited control over the operation or safety of the vehicle. Therefore, the law places the responsibility on common carriers to ensure the safety of passengers.

The higher duty of care does not free passengers from the responsibility of taking reasonable precautionary measures. For example, a passenger who suffers an injury by ignoring instructions for safety cannot sue the driver for negligence.

Some actions that meet the utmost duty of care standard include:

  • Providing safe places for passengers and other road users
  • Drive responsibly
  • Train employees properly
  • Protect passengers from harm both by passengers and other people
  • Warn passengers of known or potential dangers
  • Reasonably attend to passengers
  • Maintain and replace equipment as necessary

If the common carrier or its employees breach this duty, the passengers can sue even if they suffer minimal damage. The passenger can sue many defendants as possible if he or she can establish their negligence and its contribution to the injury.

In addition to upholding the utmost duty of care, common carriers must also meet the standard duty of care to other road users. The standard duty of care requires that they act as a reasonable person would, in similar circumstances, to prevent foreseeable harm to others.

Actions that uphold the standard duty of care include:

  • Driving at reasonable speeds based on the weather, traffic, speed recommendations, and the weight of the vehicle
  • Being vigilant while driving to avoid road hazards and to protect other road users
  • Maintaining control of the vehicle during the drive
  • Maintaining the vehicle for efficiency on the road
  • Driving while sober (drunk driving will result in a criminal conviction and a civil lawsuit, in case of damages)
  • Using reasonable care when manufacturing common carriers and their parts, to ensure that they are safe for use

Therefore, other road users and passengers can sue the common carrier for damages resulting due to a breach of the duty of care.

When suing a common carrier for breaching the duty of care, the court will determine the following:

  • Whether the duty existed
  • Whether the common carrier breached the duty

The duty of care exists if:

  • The harm to the plaintiff is foreseeable
  • The certainty with which you suffered an injury
  • The connection between the conduct of the defendant and the plaintiff’s injuries
  • The moral blame of the defendant
  • The existing policies on preventing harm

The complexity of proving the duty of care depends on the facts of the case. It could be a simple process or might require the testimony of expert witnesses. Some factors that go into determining whether a breach of the duty of care occurred include:

  • Whether the harm was reasonably foreseeable to the defendant
  • The custom practices in the bus industry
  • Testimony of accident reconstruction experts
  • Expert testimony about the skill and knowledge required in common carriers as well as that used by the defendant

In addition to common carrier regulations, bus drivers must adhere to limitations on hours of operation to prevent driving while fatigued.

A common carrier has a higher duty of care to special groups, including the ill, disabled, and minors. By accepting these groups as passengers, the common carrier automatically assumes the responsibility of ensuring that the passengers are as safe as a human can protect them.

Common Carrier-Passenger Relationship

The relationship between a common carrier and a passenger matters when determining liability in case of an accident. It also influences the duty of care the common carrier owes to the passenger. Common carriers have a heightened duty of care only to its passengers. Therefore, understanding this relationship is vital to your case.

The law defines a passenger as:

  • One who intends to become the passenger of the common carrier
  • The common carrier accepts the persona as a passenger
  • The person places him or herself under the control of the common carrier

The duty of the common carrier begins when the entity accepts a person as a passenger. An entity accepts a passenger by collecting tickets, for instance. The duty of the common carrier ends when it delivers the goods or person to a reasonably safe destination, not when the passenger alights.

Common carriers also have policies with provisions for when the carrier can terminate the relationship with the passenger. After the termination of the relationship, you are removed from the common carrier. The common causes of removal include:

  • Failure to adhere to the terms and conditions stated in the ticket
  • A medical condition that would prevent your safe transportation
  • The carrier is full (common carriers must adhere to weight restrictions or maximum number of passengers)
  • The goods you intend to transport are dangerous
  • Poorly packaged goods

If the carrier terminates its relationship with you, then they are not bound by the utmost duty of care.

Common Carrier Liability

Common carrier liability arises upon a breach of the utmost duty of care. This duty requires that the common carrier display utmost care, diligence, and skills when operating or running their operations. This is to ensure that people who use their services or carriers are protected to a reasonable degree.

When you are injured in a common carrier, then you have to prove liability. Liability arises when one or more parties in the common carrier chain act with negligence. Some of the parties you can sue include:

  • The manufacturer
  • The bus company
  • The driver of the bus
  • The employer of the bus
  • The parts manufacturer

To collect damages from a common carrier, the plaintiff must prove that the party acted with negligence. Common carriers are only liable for actions that were foreseeable as opposed to natural acts such as earthquakes that cause injuries to passengers.

Determining the liable party in common carrier accidents requires an understanding of the:

  • Cause of the accident
  • Foreseeability of the accident
  • Negligent actions that contributed to the accident

Accident reconstruction experts play a vital role in rebuilding the accident scene based on witness testimony and evidence such as tread marks, debris on the vehicle, and the road and the nature of the damage to the vehicle. In some cases, an expert must examine the vehicle to establish the root of the failure.

Find a Orange County Personal Injury Attorney Near Me

Some bus accidents occur when the driver fails to adhere to common carrier laws. If the negligence of a driver or another party in the common carrier chain causes injury to you, then you can file a lawsuit to recover your damages. The Orange County Personal Injury Attorney evaluates common carrier accidents to determine the violated laws and the negligent party. We have the resources and expertise in representing clients injured in bus accidents in California. Contact us today at 714-876-1959. You pay when we win.