There have been a recent string of bus crashes on our nation’s highways causing serious injuries and a number of deaths that are very troubling. Most recently, twenty people were injured when a bus veered off the road south of Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday night. According to reports, the bus was the only vehicle involved in the crash.
Police found tire tread on the roadway and are looking into the possibility that tire failure may have caused the wreck.
At this point, it would be pure speculation to try and lay blame for the accident. Defective or worn out tires may have been a cause, or the fault could be as simple as a sleepy bus driver.
Obviously, the passengers on a commercial bus rely on the bus driver and the bus company to provide for their safety. There is little, if anything, that a passenger on a bus can do to protect themselves when a bus driver falls asleep, or the bus company fails to properly maintain the tires on the bus. In fact, because passengers are completely at the mercy of the bus company or other Charter company, Indiana law has an exception to the usual system of fault in civil cases called the “common carrier exception.”
In normal accident situations, an Indiana judge or jury is asked to compare the fault of the two parties involved. They are free to put 100% fault on one party and zero fault on the other, or any combination thereof. However, when dealing with businesses that transport people from one place to another, such as bus charters or airlines, the “common carrier exception” applies and there is “strict liability,” meaning that the charter company can be found to be completely responsible for the injury or harm to its passengers.
While some might think it is unfair to impose such a duty on a bus company or other transport in the business of transporting passengers, the Indiana Supreme Court has long held, “The imposition of liability under the common carrier exception is premised on the control and autonomy surrendered by the passenger to the carrier for the period of accommodation.” Stropes v. Heritage House Children’s Center, Inc., 547 N.E.2d 244, 252 (Ind. 1989). In other words, the passengers have paid for safe passage and it is the charter company’s duty to deliver a safe passage. Essentially, Indiana law holds that the transport company offered to take passengers from point A to Point B in exchange for a certain monetary fair charged by the company. Implicit in that deal is that the company transport the passengers safely.
If you think about it, this just makes sense. It is good public policy to put the responsibility for passenger safety in the hands of the company that is transporting the passenger. After all, the passenger isn’t the one driving the bus or flying the airplane. Hopefully, this ensures that the bus company, or other charter company, keeps the vehicle in good mechanical condition, and makes sure that the driver, captain, or pilot is well qualified and properly trained. Bottom line, passenger safety is that important. The “Common Carrier Exception” in Indiana is good public policy because it encourages safe passage for the thousands of Hoosiers every year who pay to have a company transport them somewhere, be it a bus, an airplane, or other means of transportation.