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Bus Companies Owe Passengers The Duty Of Utmost Care

Barbara_Callahan

by Barbara M. Callahan, Esq.

The major news in Boston this weekend was the Saturday night crash of a tour bus carrying a group of Philadelphia high school students which had just completed a visit to Harvard University and was returning to Pennsylvania at the time of the crash. According to reports, the bus was traveling on Soldiers Field Road when the top of the bus came into contact with the Western Avenue Bridge as the bus driver attempted to drive under the bridge.  The driver apparently was unaware of the10 foot height restriction on vehicles traveling on Soldiers Field Road.  According to police, the bus did not belong on the road where oversized vehicles, like buses, were expressly not authorized.  Thirty-five people were unfortunately injured in the crash; thankfully most of them have returned home.

Common-law negligence in Massachusetts consists of the breach of a duty of care that directly and proximately causes harm.  In a personal injury case, the offending party typically owes the injured party a duty of reasonable care to avoid physical harm.  In certain cases however, such as bus accidents, there exists  a “special relationship” between the bus company (often referred to as a common carrier) and its passengers that creates a heightened duty of care.

Under Massachusetts law, a common carrier is required to exercise the utmost care consistent with the nature and extent of its business to carry its passengers to their destination in security and enable them to alight there with safety. Such a high standard of care exists because passengers have little control over the operation of their transport, the actions of the employees, the conduct of the business, and their own safety.  As a practical matter, such a high duty means that common carriers may be liable for even the slightest negligence and makes a claim against them easier to establish.

Of note, anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident can only recover damages for pain and suffering where that person’s medical expenses meets or exceeds the monetary threshold set by the Legislature of $2,000.  Massachusetts General Law chapter 231 § 6D.