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Negligence in Boarding or Alighting of Passenger

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller whose handicapped 15-year-old daughter fell while exiting a commercial bus and broke her ankle. She was calling to discuss their legal rights.

This question addresses the concept of common carrier liability.

What is a “common carrier,” you might ask?

A common carrier can be any type of vehicle that gets you from one location to another for a fee.

A plane, train or bus, or even a taxicab will fit the definition in many situations. And, yes, there is case law that has held Uber is a common carrier – subject to a duty to care for passengers.

Common carriers are required to exercise the highest degree of care, vigilance, and precaution for the safety of their passengers.

This duty has been variously characterized as “the utmost care and diligence,” “the utmost caution characteristic of very careful men,” and diligence “as far as human care and foresight will go.”

The general rule is that a common carrier must exercise the highest degree of care for the safety of its passengers or the substantial equivalent of that rule. The rule applies to every type of common carrier, and it applies concerning the boarding of passengers and their actual carriage.

Furthermore, the duty does not end when the carrier stops but continues until the passenger has safely alighted.

Since the caller’s daughter was a passenger injured while alighting from a common carrier, in descending down the steps, the public bus company owed the child the care required of a common carrier.

In questioning the caller, we discovered that though the daughter was age 15, she was mentally handicapped and had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. We further learned that as she was stepping off the bottom stair of the bus, the bus driver let his foot off the brake prematurely. This caused the bus to lurch, ejecting the child from the bus and onto the concrete curb.

In such situations, a common carrier’s negligence in failing to assist passengers and allowing a passenger an insufficient amount of time to board or alight will result in liability to the common carrier.

With the caller’s situation, if the bus driver knew of the child’s mental handicap, the duty to give the child adequate time to clear the steps would be heightened. Arguably, he may have been required to put the bus in park and help her off if she was having trouble.

Keep in mind that common carrier liability is not strict liability.

There are defenses to be made and situations where a carrier may avoid liability.

A classic no liability example would be where a passenger sustains injuries while exiting the carrier vehicle tripping on a bag left in an aisle.

There would likely be no liability without evidence of when the bag was placed in the aisle, operator knowledge it was in the aisle, and proof passenger freedom of movement was unduly restricted.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”