Deadly Accidents and Pennsylvania Common Carrier Law


Public transportation, including trains, trolleys, buses and cabs, is an essential part of many peoples’ lives. As patrons, we essentially put our lives into the hands of those transporting us to our destination.  We want to believe we will arrive safely because safe transit systems are important to us all. However, accidents do happen and, unfortunately, they happen too often.  In that regard, there are still many questions pertaining to the investigation of the recent train derailment at O’Hare International Airport. Similarly, authorities are still investigating the cause of a crash involving a SEPTA bus injuring two individuals in Philadelphia. Officials in California are also investigating a deadly crash involving a collision of a tour bus carrying high school students and a FedEx tractor trailer, an accident in which nine people died.

Those individuals injured, as well as the families affected, by these accidents do have a form of relief: a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages for their injuries and other damages. Although a monetary settlement or award cannot undo a tragedy, it may provide some financial and emotional relief for the victims, and may also serve to have transportation companies be more attentive to safety issues going forward.  Such tragedies like a train derailment and bus accidents trigger a very specific area of law called common carrier liability.

Common Carrier Liability Defined

Common carrier liability applies to an individual or business that advertises to the public that it is available for hire to transport people or property in exchange for a fee. The common carrier is legally bound to carry all passengers or freight, as long as there is enough space, when the fee is paid, and no reasonable grounds to refuse to do so exist. Common carriers include limousines, buses, trains and taxis.

Governing Law

The federal government enforces rules for those common carriers that transport people across state lines. Those common carriers engaged in business within state borders are regulated by the state itself.

Pursuant to the United States Code, a common carrier is liable for damages during transit. Liability under the common carrier law arises not only because a person was injured, but was injured due to the carrier’s negligence. Similarly, most states, including Pennsylvania, have developed laws which hold common carriers are held to a higher standard of care to their passengers than a typical driver. The special duties of the common carrier are said to arise from the fact that passengers have entrusted their safety to the custody and safekeeping of the carrier. This means that if there is any negligence whatsoever on the part of the company that chartered or operates the transportation, passengers can seek compensation for their injuries. This is different from automobile accidents involving non-carriers because more traditional standards of fault are applied in those situations and a lesser degree of fault can lead to the imposition of liability on the part of a common carrier.  The common carrier liability standard makes it easier for accident victims to show liability than in accidents caused by private individuals.

Good public policy recognizes the fact that people should be able to trust a company they hire to transport them in a safe manner. In order to further this concept, common carriers are strictly regulated by federal and state agencies and laws to make sure that they are compliant with safety regulations and financial responsibility laws. Carriers must obey strict registration, licensing, insurance, and safety procedures.

The experienced lawyers at Solnick & Associates, LLC are committed to helping the victims of accidents throughout the Philadelphia area and have significant experience in pursuing claims against common carriers, including SEPTA, taxicab owners and operator and trucking companies.  If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident involving a common carrier, contact our office at (215) 481-9979 for a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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