Legally Reviewed by:

Jonathan Rosenfeld

December 2, 2021

Over $400 Million worth of case results

Awarded The Best Lawyer in 2024 by U.S. News

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Common carriers have a higher duty of care when they are transporting people.

If someone goes into business to move passengers, they take on far more responsibility than the average driver when they get behind the wheel.

If you carry passengers, you can expect that there is a greater chance that you can be held liable. However, many people do not understand the term common carrier.

It applies to many potential defendants who could be legally responsible for accidents.

Common Carriers Owe Passnegers a Heightened Degree of Care

Common carriers owe passengers a heightened degree of care to keep passengers and others safe.

Who Are Considered Common Carriers

The term common carrier has nothing to do with the airline itself being common. It is more than they provide common transportation services to people.

All passengers are similarly situated when dealing with the common carrier. Their tickets are first-come, first-served. Anyone can purchase a ticket.

An Example of a Common Carrier

A classic example of a common carrier is an airline.

Companies like Southwest Airlines or United hold themselves out to the public as being able to transport them to any destination in their route network.

Persons with the money can buy a ticket. Unless the passenger will not follow the airline’s rules, the airline cannot refuse the request to buy a ticket and must carry everyone who wishes transportation.

Other examples of common carriers include:

  • Interstate bus carriers
  • A passenger cruise ship
  • City mass transit buses (CTA buses)
  • Trains

The Duty of Care of a Common Carrier

The rules that apply to common/transport carriers come from common law.

The usual term that applies to these carriers is that they must use the utmost care, vigilance, and diligence to ensure the safe transport of passengers.

This standard of care goes beyond the negligence doctrine that will apply to the usual personal injury case.

While the same concept of negligence applies to a case, the common carrier doctrine means that a jury may be more likely to find that a carrier acted unreasonably under the circumstances.

They must use more than just reasonable care. The utmost is considered more than reasonable.

Common Carriers vs. Private Carriers

There is a difference between a common carrier and a private carrier, where the former holds itself out to the general public as being able to private transport.

A private carrier is another term for a contract carrier.

They provide an individualized transport service as part of a special agreement with a passenger or a group of passengers.

This could also include transporting cargo from one destination to another.

The key difference is whether the company holds itself out to the general public as potential customers.

If anyone can buy a ticket for carriage, they are dealing with common carriers. Private carriers are precisely that.

They do not have to accept every customer that wants to do business with them. They can refuse business.

Private Carriers’ Duty of Care

A private carrier’s duty depends on what they are transporting.

If they are transporting a person, they must use the same reasonable care as would generally be needed.

If they are transporting freight, the duty is different. They must take reasonable care of their cargo and not take them for themselves.

If they did not take reasonable care when providing services, they could be made to pay in a lawsuit.

Common Carrier Laws and Regulations

Numerous government agencies have the authority to regulate common/transport carriers. The applicable agency depends on the type of transportation provided.

Some agencies with regulatory authority include the following:

  • Federal Aviation Authority
  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
  • Federal Maritime Administration

The Scope of a Common Carrier’s Liability

If you have been injured in a common carrier accident, the company can be made to pay for your damages.

This is true whether the company’s employees were negligent or willfully violated the company’s rules.

Companies may not be liable when employees go beyond their job’s scope or authority.

This is not the case with these transport carriers, who are legally responsible for all acts of their employees that cause injury.

Damages for Common Carrier Negligence

If you have been injured by negligent conduct, you may be entitled to the following damages:

  • Lost wages for time missed from work
  • Coverage for all medical bills
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Wrongful death damages if someone was killed

Does the Common Carrier Doctrine Apply to Truck Companies?

The answer to this question depends on what the trucking company does.

If you see a truck with Walmart or Amazon on the side of it, they are a private carrier because they work for a specific company.

They have a duty of reasonable care when transporting freight.

They are a common carrier if they exist to serve whoever hires them to transport goods. The key is that provide service to the general public.

Freight companies like FedEx or UPS would be considered common carriers, as is any company transporting goods for anyone who pays them a fee.

Internet Service Providers Are Also Common Carriers

According to the FCC, ISPs, and telecommunications companies are also common carriers to enforce net neutrality rules.

The regulatory body dictates that ISPs must treat all websites the same and cannot give anyone special treatment, no matter how much money they have.

However, this is more of an issue regulating telephone companies and ministerial authority than a facet of personal injury law.

Contact Us for Legal Help

If transport companies do not regard our safety when providing services, we can help you recover financially.

Call the truck accident attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers at (800) 424-5757 or fill out a contact form on our site. Whether it is an airline, semi-truck company, or bus company, we work for you as you seek compensation for your injuries.

Our services come at no cost to you unless we win, where there is no fee until you receive a settlement or jury award. Then, we are paid a percentage of your proceeds.


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