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Bus drivers must satisfy high standard of care in accident cases

This blog has posted several discussions of California accidents involving passenger buses. Some collisions involved both buses and automobiles, and others involved only a single bus. We have also referred to drivers involved in auto accidents as being liable for the accidents they cause because they failed to exercise reasonable care. What about bus operators and drivers? What standard of care must they follow in caring for the safety of their passengers?

The standard begins with an important term derived from the common law. By statute in California (and most of the rest of the country), companies that transport persons or property for compensation are called "common carriers." The term has a number of exceptions, such as medical transport vans and intra-school buses, but virtually every commercial bus company is a common carrier.

The significance of this classification can be found in four sections of the California Civil Code that define the standard of care for common carriers of persons, i.e., bus companies. All persons who operate motor vehicles are required to take reasonable care to avoid injuring another person; "reasonable care" is defined as the level of care employed by a reasonable person in similar circumstances. The standard of care for bus drivers is much higher. According to the statute, "A carrier of persons for reward must use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage, must provide everything necessary for that purpose, and must exercise to that end a reasonable degree of skill." This standard has two elements - the requirement of "utmost care" and the exercise of a "reasonable degree of skill." Both elements impose a higher duty on bus drivers than the lower threshold of reasonable care. The statute imposes four additional requirements: the vehicles must be safe and fit for their purpose, the vehicle must not be overcrowded, passengers must be treated civilly, and the bus cannot exceed a reasonable rate of speed. The requirement that a driver exercise skill implies that he must be trained to understand, possess and use these skills.

Anyone who has been injured or lost a loved one in an accident involving a commercial bus company may have a claim for damages against the driver, the company that operates the bus and against the entity that owns the bus (if that entity is different from the operator). An attorney who specializes in such cases can provide a helpful overview of the facts and law and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: California Civil Code, Secs. 2100 - 2104, accessed on Oct. 1, 2016

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