Wrongful Death while On The Road

Whether you travel for business or pleasure, it is likely that you will ride on an airplane, train, bus, or boat.  These forms of public transportation are convenient and less-costly alternatives for reaching your destination.  As a paying passenger, the mass transit operation owes you a duty of care. If death results from the common carrier’s negligence or intentional act, then it is possible a wrongful death claims exists. In order to assess whether a common carrier is liable for wrongful death it is necessary to evaluate several issues.

Determining What Type of Duty Is Owed and Whether It Was Breached

First, it is necessary to determine whether the wrongdoing party qualifies as a common carrier. A common carrier includes individuals, companies, or public utilities that are in the regular business of transporting people and/or cargo. Classifying the wrongdoing party as a common carrier means the party will be subject to particular standards of care. Common carriers owe a high degree of care towards their passengers, which means they may be liable for even slight negligence.  This heightened duty holds common carriers to a duty of utmost care for their passengers’ safety and protection. Common carriers breach this duty when they fail to provide for passenger safety through either negligent or intentional conduct.

Equally important, you must determine whether you are entitled to receive this heightened duty of care from the common carrier. For example, while bus passengers are entitled to the heightened duty of care, pedestrians and drivers of other vehicles are owed only the duty of reasonable care. This duty requires the common carrier to take only the action/inaction that a reasonable person would do under the circumstances.  Therefore, your ability to recover on a wrongful death claim depends not only on the wrongdoing party’s status, but also the status of the deceased at the time of the accident.

Determining Whether Negligence or Recklessness Exists

In order to establish a wrongful death claim the common carrier must have been negligent or acted recklessly.  This negligence or recklessness must result in death. Negligence can result from a multitude of sources, including company or employee actions.  Yet is important to differentiate between death that is attributed to a common carrier and death that merely coincides with a common carrier.  Death that merely coincides with a common carrier does not create a wrongful death claim.  There must be a causal connection between the carrier’s action/inaction and the resulting death.

Special Cases – Government-Operated Transit

When the common carrier is a bus company, it is necessary to determine whether the bus is owned and operated by a government entity.  Government entities and their employees are typically subject to different standards than that of privately owned buses. Strict compliance with these specialized laws for government entities ensures your claim will not be dismissed.

Special Cases -Cruise Ship Passengers 

Cruise ship lines are considered common carriers, owing its passengers the duty of safe transportation. This duty of safety includes protection from the cruise ship employees’ assaults, rapes, and other criminal attacks. For example, suit for wrongful death was brought against Carnival cruise lines based on negligent care rendered by a cruise ship physician. However, like other personal injury claims, a wrongful death claim against a cruise ship line may be subject to certain legal limitations. These limitations include when and where a suit may be filed and what law will govern the claim.  In assessing a wrongful death claim against a cruise ship line, consider the following:

Parties That May Be Held Responsible For Wrongful Death – Aside from the cruise line company, it may be advantageous to bring suit against other parties as well.  This may include the company operating the cruise ship, the company selling the tickets, the owner of the cruise ship, or even the charter company of the cruise ship.  Also, it may be possible that the wrongdoing party is an independent contractor. In this instance, maritime law protects a cruise ship line from liability for the care provided by onboard physicians.  Nonetheless, your ability to file suit against anyone is still subject to several legal limitations.

Tickets Constitute Contractual Agreements – Typically, cruise ship tickets provide important information pertaining to legal action.  Unfortunately, these small-print terms generally govern disputes that arise between passengers and cruise ships.  This information tells you where you must file your action in order for it to be heard, as well as the laws that will be applicable to your claim.  Due to the fact that the ticket qualifies as a contract between the passenger and cruise line, failure to abide by the terms set forth in the ticket usually results in failure.

Notice May Be Required – In addition to where your claim must be filed, information on your cruise ticket may also require you to provide the cruise line with notice of the injury and/or resulting death.  It may be difficult to determine what time limitations apply to your situation. While most admiralty and maritime matters are subject to a three-year time limitation, cruise ships have found a way to circumvent this long time period.   For example, by designating where lawsuits may be brought, the cruise line is able to better protect themselves by choosing jurisdictions that have a shorter statute of limitations.  Thus, many cruise lines designate Florida in order to receive greater protection from the one-year statute of limitations.  Furthermore, courts do enforce these provisions and can dismiss your claim.  The bottom line is that providing the cruise line with timely notice of an injury that results in death or that may result in death in the future may preserve your wrongful death claim.

Read the next article:  Wrongful Death and Major Medical Issues 

Contact an attorney in your area.