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In the wake of the deadliest U.S. transportation-related accident in almost a decade, the operator of the limousine company whose "Frankenstein vehicle" was involved in the crash was arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide. And while he is facing criminal liability for the 20 deaths as a result of the accident, he and the limo company may also face civil liability as a "common carrier."
But what are common carriers? And what are their responsibilities under federal and state tort law? Here's a legal roundup.
Common carriers are buses, taxicabs, commercial airplanes, passenger trains, cruise ships, and, sometimes, limousines, offer transportation services to the public. These businesses often fall under the authority of a state or federal regulatory body, and are required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence in the safety of their passengers. If they fail to meet that standard, they can be sued for any damage or injuries that result.
Amtrak and other rail operators are governed by the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA) and are classified as common carriers. Such entities can be sued for injuries for failing to adhere to a particular regulation or failing to exercise the care and diligence that would be expected of a reasonably careful operator.
Airlines are also common carriers and fall under federal regulatory authority. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) sets and enforces safety standards for pilot conduct, flight operations, and aircraft manufacturers through civil or criminal penalties.
Even if you're injured on local public transportation like a subway or bus, you might be able to sue under common carrier liability. However, many municipalities have "Tort Claims Acts" that set the rules for filing injury claims against public transit agencies, and may require notice of a claim before you file a lawsuit and could limit the amount of damages to which you're entitled.
Even if a company is transporting goods rather than people, it could fall under common carrier liability. And that can get a little complicated when a commercial carrier transporting freight uses leased trucks and drivers instead of their own, or uses independent contractors to drive their own trucks instead of an employee.
Common carrier lawsuits can be complicated, and are often governed by local laws and ordinances. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney in your area for questions regarding your case.