School Bus Held to Certain Standard in Injury/Accident Circumstances

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a common carrier as “A commercial enterprise that holds itself out to the public as offering to transport freight or passengers for a fee. A common carrier is generally required by law to transport freight or passengers . . . without refusal, if the approved fare or charge is paid.” Common carriers include vehicles such as buses, planes, trains, and even taxis. Generally, the individual who is driving or running the vehicle is unknown to the passengers and those passengers are, in effect, putting their lives in the hands of a complete stranger. As a result, a common carrier has special, heightened obligations to the people they are transporting. Therefore, if someone is injured, then the common carrier is more likely to be held liable.

The danger involving public transportation is especially apparent in situations where there are children involved. For example, in a recent case involving the Avoyelles Parish School Board, they were held liable for an injury that a child sustained on a school bus. In this case, a child was injured as a result of the bus driver backing up into a wet, grassy area and getting the school bus stuck in the mud. The school bus had to be hauled out of the mud while the children were on it. The child involved injured his knee; he suffered from bilateral knee contusions after he hit his knee on the back of one of the chairs.

The school bus is considered under the definition of a common carrier even though the children do not directly pay for their transportation as they get on the school bus. As a result, law surrounding the common carrier doctrine governs the school bus case. Although Louisiana generally relies on codes to make up their laws, the common carrier doctrine exists even in this state.

Basically, the common carrier doctrine creates a much higher degree of care for the common carrier. It is based on the notion described previously: someone you do not know is caring for your safety as you travel with many other people on a vehicle. The normal standard for negligence is “reasonable care” – that is, someone driving a car, for example, is only required to exercise reasonable care when driving. It is assumed that the driver will not take unnecessary risks when driving and consider the other drivers on the road when making decisions. However, the standard for the common carrier is heightened. It is based on the “highest degree of care.” Basically, the common carrier is not supposed to take risks at all and consider the safety of their passengers first. If your children are riding on a bus, you would hope that the bus driver is not going to take unnecessary risks that would put your child in danger, so the common carrier doctrine is supported by a great deal of logic.

In addition to the heightened standard of care, the burden of proof also shifts slightly if you take a common carrier to court for an injury. If you can prove that there was an injury that occurred on the common carrier vehicle (or while you were getting on the vehicle or coming off the vehicle for that matter), then the burden of proof shifts to the common carrier to show that they were free from negligence.

In the school bus case, for example, the bus driver would have to prove that although she was stuck in the grass, she was acting with the highest degree of car and with the interests of the students in mind. In that case, however, the bus driver mentioned that while the bus was being removed from the mud and while she was trying to back up the bus, she was unable to watch the children the entire time. Therefore, the Court held that the presumption is that she was negligent and therefore liable for the injuries.

Common carriers need to be accountable to the people they transport because of the great deal of trust that those people put into the drivers. You expect a common carrier to transport you and your loved ones safely.

If there has been an injury as a result of being transported by a common carrier, contact the Berniard Law Firm toll free at 1-866-574-8005. We specialize in personal injury litigation and would be happy to help.

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