There is an illusion of control when you are driving a metal monster of a machine like an 18-wheeler or a huge ferry boat. It might not feel that way with a taxi – even something like a Lyft is still a regular car most of the time, unless you’re driving an SUV – but at least a commercial truck offers some bit of control, right?
Of course, until the instant you crash into something.
Operators of a common carrier (vehicles that offer transportation for a fee as part of a business) like a truck, bus, ride-share or taxi have many deliberations when they get into an accident, including how to take care of themselves and make sure they aren’t held personally responsible for injuries. The problems that the injured have after any car accident are compounded when common carriers are involved. Let’s take a look at how and why.
Any individual or business that transports people, goods or services in exchange for money is considered a common carrier, so your Greyhound buses, Twinkies trucks, interstate ferries, you name it. They offer their services to the general public and are licensed by a regulatory governmental body, but they can be both private and public entities. They might include anything from a taxi to a school bus to a train to a ferry ship. Anything that crosses state lines is controlled under the Interstate Commerce Act, and states themselves can regulate travel on a local level within their own borders.
Because these businesses offer services to the public and require payment from passengers, they are held to a higher duty of care. Regular drivers, by contrast, are held to a standard of reasonable care. What would any other driver do under similar circumstances? What would be considered reasonable by a jury?
Common carriers must use the highest degree of care for their passengers. If they fail to do so, they can be considered negligent. If someone is injured because of a truck hits a car or a Lyft driver runs a red light, that higher standard of care will apply.
However, many common carriers are governmental entities, so keep in mind that a different statute of limitations will apply. While the statute of limitations in Texas for personal injuries is two years (a very short time period to begin with), against governmental entities it is 180 days.
There might also be a special notice period to which the injured party must adhere prior to filing his or her lawsuit. This is why speaking with a personal injury attorney is crucial; if the statute of limitations is only 180 days, you have very little time both to investigate and to file a claim before your suit is barred forever.
Just like a normal car accident (if indeed a car accident can be called “normal”), a variety of things can cause accidents involving common carriers. These can be instances like:
Stay calm and check yourself for physical injuries. If you are injured, seek medical attention as soon as you can. You can’t help anyone else if you’re injured.
Once you are stabilized, help anyone else in your vehicle who needs medical attention, and get your vehicle out of the flow of traffic if you can. If you can’t move your vehicle because of damage, at least put on your hazard lights.
Even if you are the offending driver, collect information for a police report. This will help your attorney later on. Being a common carrier in an accident means that more likely than not (in fact, it’s a 99% possibility), you and your company are going to be sued. You are going to be deposed at some point in time by an attorney, and you are going to need to remember what happened during these important moments. So, if you haven’t printed out a post-accident incident report to keep in your glove compartment, here is the vital information you should try to write down:
Get the contact information for the other driver and for witnesses, if nothing else. They might leave town, they might be visiting the state... there are a host of possibilities.
Because you are employed with a common carrier, your employer will most likely be held responsible under the theory of respondeat superior, or “let the employer answer.” This means that a person’s boss is normally responsible for whatever the employee does wrong during work hours. So, if you injured someone while on the clock, your employer is potentially responsible for that victim’s subsequent medical bills. (Of course, there will be a long fight about whether you are, in fact, an employee or an independent contractor, so be prepared for that.)
This can get confusing with Uber services and other ride-sharers. They are technically Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs, and do not hold livery licenses or the same insurance that cab drivers do.
Each state has the potential to handle this differently, but in Colorado, for instance, a bill was passed that says while the Uber ride-sharing app is turned on, the driver’s primary liability coverage shall cover the passenger. TNCs in Colorado must carry $50,000 per injured passenger, $30,000 for property damage and $100,000 for all injuries arising per accident.
This doesn’t mean you can’t purchase additional insurance or uninsurance (which is a must if someone hits you and they are driving uninsured; what are you going to collect against?).
Another question is if the ride-sharing driver an independent contractor or an employee. Respondeat superior only works if someone is actually employed. Independent contractors have more control over their schedules and determine their own hours. Expect a lengthy battle over this.
In terms of insurance for bus accidents, depending on the state, it might be a single pool of money that covers all injured passengers (this, of course, presents limitations if injuries are considered significant or catastrophic), or it might be individual passenger policies.
Buses must carry at least $500,000 in liability insurance if they have at least 15 passengers (but no more than 26). Commercial motor vehicles (trucks, for instance) need at least $500,000 in liability insurance as well, while foreign commercial motor vehicles need at least $750,000.
If you are a common carrier who negligently injured your passengers, you should speak with a Texas attorney as soon as you can. The rules are constantly evolving for ride-sharers, and even dealing with something “straightforward” like a bus or truck accident can be quite complicated, considering the number of individual claims involved. Let a lawyer help you sort through the mess.