A bus driver that transports the public for a fee owes a higher duty of care to make sure that passengers do not get injured.

A bus driver is considered a common carrier and is required by law to make sure passengers do not get hurt.

California law defines a common carrier as someone who transports the general public for a set fee. Examples of common carriers include taxi cabs, MTA buses, airline companies and railroad companies. Whether or not someone is considered a common carrier depends on the specific facts of the case.

General Rule to Qualify as a Common Carrier

As a general rule, the establishment of one or more of the following elements can be used to qualify someone as a common carrier:

  1. The company has a regular place of business for transporting the general public;
  2. The company in some manner advertises its business to the general public; and
  3. The company charges a set fee for its service of transporting people and/or property.

Exceptions to Required Elements

However, a carrier may be considered a common carrier even if it does not satisfy these elements. California courts have held ski lift operators, amusement parks and department stores with elevators or escalators as common carriers even though they may not advertise their business to the general public or charge a set fee to transport the general public.

Even someone who is transporting passengers for free is considered a common carrier and owes the utmost duty of care to his passengers. And, the designation of a “common carrier” does not require that the carrier have the required licenses or permits or have specific departure dates or times or routes.

A Bus Driver Must Make Sure That Passengers are Safe

California Civil Code Section 2011 states that:“[a] carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill.

And, a common carrier must …… give to passengers all such accommodations as are usual and reasonable, and must treat them with civility, and give them a reasonable degree of attention. – Civil Code Section 2103.

Even the slightest deviation from the obligation to transport passengers safely can make a driver liable for injuries sustained by passengers.

This means that a bus driver must be very careful while driving the bus and serving its patrons. This duty is stricter than a duty imposed on an ordinary driver. Thus, even the slightest deviation from the obligation to transport passengers safely can make a driver liable for injuries sustained by passengers.

Example of Violated Duty of Care:

For instance, if the bus driver stops the vehicle abruptly and thereby causes a passenger to fall out of the seat, the bus driver may be held to have violated his or her duty of care. At the same time, a driver of a private vehicle in the exact same situation, might be found to have acted reasonably and therefore would not be held liable.

Additional Care to Certain Types of Passengers

A bus driver’s duty of care also depends on the type of passengers being transported. If the bus driver knows that a person is ill or disabled, then he must use “additional care as is reasonably necessary to ensure the passenger’s safety.”

A bus driver also owes a greater duty of care to a passenger who is a minor.

Passenger’s Responsibility

Passenger owes a lesser duty of care than a common carrier. Unlike a common carrier that must use the highest duty of care in preventing injury, its passengers only need to use reasonable care in preventing injury to themselves.

Duty To Provide And Maintain Safe Equipment

The bus company and its drivers have a duty to use the highest care in servicing and maintaining the buses used to transport the public in order to prevent injury. And they are responsible for all of the defects in the buses if they either created the defects or had actual or constructive notice of the defects.

Finally, a bus company is obligated to use and/or incorporate into their buses “commonly accepted safety designs and devices.”

Duty to Protect From Other Passengers

A bus driver owes a higher duty of care to protect passengers from assaults by fellow passengers. This duty is imposed if the bus driver knew or by using the highest care, should have known of the potential assault; and the driver – by using the highest care, could have prevented the assault.

Passengers Do Not Need To Be Inside The Bus

A passenger does not need to be inside the bus for the higher duty of care to apply. The duty is imposed at the moment a bus company or its driver agrees to accept a member of the public as a passenger. For instance, the higher duty of care applies even in situations where the passenger has not boarded a bus and is sitting in a waiting room of a bus depot. Similarly, the higher duty of care does not end when the passenger gets off the bus. It only ends when the passenger is dropped off in a safe place.

Public vs. Private Bus Carriers, What’s the Difference?

Bus accident claims differ depending on the type of bus involved. Due to the nature of complex laws and regulations surrounding bus accident claims, an injured individual should consult an attorney who has experience with a specific type of claim. Depending on whether it’s a public or private bus, regulations and laws involved are not necessarily the same. Some of the typical bus accidents include commercial buses, city, and public buses as well as school buses.

Commercial Bus Accident Claims

Common carriers – buses for the general public have to exercise special care because they are held to higher standards. These types of buses are not for hire, meaning they are not chartered. However, don’t confuse higher standards with requirements to ensure every passenger, as this is not always the case.

Government Employed Bus Drivers

Unlike common carriers, government employees have significantly more protection in some areas and are protected by full or limited sovereign immunity. There are exceptions to this protection, though sometimes difficult to apply. Negligent behavior of the driver (gross negligence, that of beyond “ordinary” negligence) can trigger such exceptions.

Depending on whether gross negligence was involved, the drivers’ employer may or may not be sued. This is where it helps to talk to an attorney who is familiar with your jurisdiction’s bus injury laws and exceptions.

Government-ran Buses and Protections

Certain government agencies restrict the amount of money you can recover from a claim against a governmental employer or their employee. Depending on the jurisdiction, government agencies can also deny your claim if you fail to give proper notice before proceeding with your claim. This is another reason you should speak with a bus accident lawyer to help you figure out what those time limits may be.

How Negligence can be proved in a Bus Accident

In order to prove the actual cause of the accident and determine a party was negligent, an attorney will look at several different elements, including but not limited to:

  • Bus driver’s qualifications – just because a driver is required to have certain credentials and licenses, doesn’t mean the rule for such requirement is always enforced.
  • Bus driver’s record – negligent hiring or entrustment can be argued if the driver has had a bad driving record such as previous tickets, accidents, and other factors. Inadequate training, lack of driving experience, in general, are all calls for an investigation.
  • Company’s negligent supervision – can also be argued if the bus driver was not supervised properly. Factors such as lack of disciplinary actions and driver fatigue can affect the outcome of proving negligence.
  • Poor maintenance – if the responsible company fails to maintain vehicles in a timely and proper fashion, issues of negligence can be argued when maintenance (or lack thereof) is responsible for the accident.
  • Other factors – exceeded weight capacity on the bus among other factors typically overlooked can make a strong case for your claim.

Free Consultation, No Obligations

If you were a bus passenger whose duty of care was breached by the bus driver, operator, maintenance, bus company or manufacturer contact an attorney as soon as possible to preserve the value of your claim. The sooner you get in touch with an attorney, the more likely you are to recover just compensation for injuries, pain and suffering, and bills.