There are many different kinds of public and mass transportation, which complicates lawsuits for personal injuries involving vehicular accidents. The rules for government-owned buses are different from those for a privately owned boat or helicopter, and still more rules apply to commercial aircraft. Injuries can result even when you're not a passenger, a bus may hit you in an intersection through no fault of your own, for example. In all cases, filing a lawsuit depends a great deal on who owns the vehicle.
Special Rules Apply to Suing the Government
"Common carriers" are the companies and entities that provide transportation to the public for a fee. The common carriers of public buses, trains, ferries, and taxis are often state or municipal governments. Federal law and some state laws require that you give notice to governments before you can sue for a personal injury. The government then has a period of time in which to settle with you. You can't file a lawsuit until after this deadline passes. On the other hand, you can't wait too long. You have a statute of limitations for filing that is typically shorter than if you were suing a private citizen.
Private Carriers Are Different
If the company providing transportation is privately owned, it must show that it takes "reasonable due care" in keeping its passengers and other individuals safe. This involves taking only average precautions that a sensible person would take. In personal injury law, this is called a general negligence standard, and it can make it more difficult to prove negligence or liability. Some states have extended the general negligence standard to include some common carriers. Private carriers include taxis, tour buses, helicopters, boats, or small planes owned by individuals and hired out to small groups or travelers for day trips or short drives.
Commercial Airlines Have Additional Liability
Commercial airlines must meet a much higher standard in keeping passengers and others safe. Unlike private carriers, they typically transport large groups of people at once. Therefore, they must do more than just take reasonable due care. Because of this threshold, commercial airlines have an increased liability in personal injury lawsuits. State laws vary as to whether government-owned carriers, such as state bus or transit authorities, must meet this same level of care.
Aviation Lawsuits Have Limitations
Although commercial airlines must meet a higher standard for safety, they also enjoy a few protections under the law. For example, if you're injured in a plane crash, you cannot use the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as evidence in a trial, which typically investigates the cause of a crash. The amount of money you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit on an international flight may be limited by international law.
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