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Preventing Injury: Duty of Care of a Common Carrier, like a Train, Bus, Plane, or Taxi?

We deal with the issues of injuries and related negligence in almost every case. That is, we consult with prospective clients; review the facts of our existing cases; and argue our points, all based on whether negligence has occurred and, if so, whether it caused the injuries of our clients.

Negligence is a legal definition and involves four specific elements. First, there must be a duty of care of the negligent party. Second, the negligent party must have breached that duty of care. Third, the breach of that duty must have caused damage to plaintiff. And lastly there must be damages, again injuries, to the plaintiff.

Whether a duty exists is also a specific legal question. In Massachusetts, the defendant must exercise ordinary care. Generally speaking, ordinary care is reasonable care. It is the care that one would take to avoid injury to another. Ordinary care is care which a reasonably prudent person would exercise under like circumstances. So, to put it another way, ordinary care is what most people would take in any given circumstance to avoid an accident.

There are certain circumstances and situations in which ordinary care is not the standard. One of the most common elevated standards of care is that which is enjoyed by common carriers. A common carrier is an operator of a vehicle of some sort which transports people, as a service, from one place to another. So common examples would be a plane or a train or a bus or a taxi. In each of these situations, a customer pays for the transport and is taken aboard to his or her destination. The elevated duty of care is important, remember, because if the common carrier does not fulfill that duty, and an injury results, we would then have the requisite elements necessary for a negligence claim.

It has been said that the duty of care of a common carrier is "the highest duty of care." That is not an accurate statement. Rather the duty is as follows: A common carrier has the duty to protect its employees, passengers, and even strangers from foreseeable harm. Foreseeability is the key. A common carrier has no duty to protect from that which is not foreseeable. My favorite case illustrating this point is Quigley v. Wilson Line of Massachusetts case. It's a Supreme Judicial Court case from 1958, but the fact pattern is interesting and the law as explained is clear.

The plaintiff, Mark Quigley, took a harbor cruise ferry ride from to Nantasket with his sister and brother-in-law. The boat had about 150 people on it, and it was complete with a dance hall and bar. Upon entering the ship in Boston, Quigley, his sister, and his brother-in-law entered the bar and apparently had a few drinks. When they arrived at Nantasket, Quigley stayed at the bar on the boat. Before departing back to Boston at 10:30 at night, two other individuals who had not been on the trip over boarded the boat. Those individuals were Bentley and Rumbos. The three Boston police officers working the detail on the boat noticed that those two seemed unusually suspicious and noted that an eye should be kept on them. They entered the bar and started drinking as well. Within a short period of time, an altercation arose between the two new individuals and Quigley. The officers broke it up and took Bentley and Rumbos up to the upper deck. The officers placed them on a bench, told him to stay there, and then left them there without any supervision. A short while later, Quigley, his sister, and brother-in-law, all made their way up to the upper deck of the boat where they were seen by the mischievous couple who, without warning, attacked them. Quigley then brought suit against Wilson Line, the carrier, for negligent security.

Question in that case, was was Wilson Line liable for the actions of Bentley and Rumbos? In answering that question, the court was required to revisit the duty of care of the common carrier. As outlined earlier, that duty is not "the highest degree of care" but rather it agreed to protect against forseeable dangers.

If you've been injured in a common carrier accident, meaning a train accident, plane accident, taxi accident, or boat accident, be sure to consult with a competent personal injury lawyer. We are happy to discuss your case with you in a confidential and free attorney consultation. To schedule your case assessment, call our office today.

Categories: MBTA, injury, common carrier, boat

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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