“Mass transit” refers to a system of transportation — planes, trains, streetcars, subways, buses, boats, ferries, taxis and more — that is used to transport large numbers of people across municipal or regional areas. Mass transit systems offer many advantages when operated properly, such as enabling large numbers of people to travel in the same travel passageway with higher efficiency than private transportation, and with potential savings in fuel, money and time. Unfortunately, when mass transit systems are improperly operated, maintained or supervised, the results can be catastrophic, causing large numbers of people to suffer death, serious and permanent physical, psychological and emotional injuries, severe financial loss, and property damage.
The United States Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that in 2013, there were:
Attorneys Fredrick E Charles and Dennis G Charles possess preeminent and distinguished legal reputations as highly skilled, experienced and accomplished trial attorneys. The attorneys at Charles Law Offices are thorough, meticulous, and masterful in their pretrial investigation, preparation, and strategy; pleading and motion practice; direct and cross-examination of expert and lay witnesses; oral argument; presentation and rebuttal of relevant scientific, medical, and other forensic evidence; review and application of relevant state and federal laws and regulations; preservation of the record for possible appellate review; and use of advanced legal skills and cutting edge persuasion techniques required to win your mass transit accident case and get you the financial compensation you deserve.
The modes of transportation used in our mass transit systems — planes, trains, streetcars, subways, buses, taxis, boats, ferries, etc. — are what is known as “common carriers.” Our federal and state courts have held that a common carrier owes its passengers the highest degree of care and diligence and the “strictest vigilance” (a) in carrying them to their destination; (b) in setting them down at the terminus of their journey; (c) in enabling them to alight safely; and (d) in maintaining a safe premises. Source: Lebanon Coach Co. v. Carolina Casualty Insurance Co., 450 Pa. Super. 1 (1996); Cestaric v. Pennsylvania Greyhound Lines, Inc., 139 F.2d 566 (3d Cir. 1943).
In Calhoon v. Pittsburgh Coal Co., 128 Pa. Super 582 (1937) the Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the common carrier’s duty of care extends to all of the common carrier’s premises from the time a passenger leaves the public highway and enters the premises occupied by a carrier, until he leaves the carrier’s premises for the public highway. The carrier is bound to provide safe means of passage between the public highway and the carrier’s means of transportation. This duty of care and rule of law applies to ferries, railroads, street railways, taxicabs, buses and airplanes. Toombs v. Manning, 835 F.2d. 453 (3d Cir. 1987). Under Pennsylvania law, a common carrier’s duty of exercising the highest degree of care is violated by negligence per se arising from violation of a government safety regulation.
Despite this duty of care owed to passengers by mass transit common carriers, our courts have held that common carriers are not insurers of their passengers’ safety. In order to recover money damages for injuries arising from the relationship with a defendant common carrier, passengers-plaintiffs still must demonstrate that the injuries are attributable to the common carrier’s negligence. Allen v. American Airlines, Inc., 301 F.Supp.2d 370 (E.D. Pa. 2003).
The standard of care which a possessor of land (i.e., the common carrier) owes to an entrant upon the land depends upon whether the entrant is a trespasser, licensee or business invitee. When no contract for carriage exists between the common carrier and the injured party, the duty of care owed by the common carrier is the same as that owed to a business visitor — namely, the duty of the common carrier rises no higher than to correct any natural or artificial unsafe condition involving an unreasonable risk of harm discoverable by the exercise of reasonable care and diligence. Lanni v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 88 A.2d 887 (Pa. 1952). Further, the legal duty of a common carrier to a “trespasser” is even less than that owed to a business visitor or invitee — the common carrier’s legal obligation to trespassers is the avoidance of willful or wanton misconduct, Geelen v. Pennsylvania R. R. Co., 161 A.2d 595 (Pa. 1960).
Federal statutes and treaties for air, maritime and rail transport may alter the standard of care, the damages recoverable, and the statute of limitations involved in mass transit accidents. These federal statutes and treaties preempt state law when applicable.
The Federal Aviation Act of 1958 (“FAA”) “establishes the applicable standards of care in the field of air safety, generally, thus preempting the entire field from state and territorial regulation.” Abdullah v. Am. Airlines, Inc., 181 F.3d 363, 367 (3d Cir.1999). A Plaintiff must base his negligence claim upon a federal standard of care, as prescribed within the FAA. 14 C.F.R. § 91.13(a) provides, “No person may operate an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” [I]n determining the standards of care in an aviation negligence action, a court must refer not only to specific regulations but also to the overall concept that aircraft may not be operated in a careless or reckless manner. In addition to FAA regulations, specific federal legislation and treaties may be applicable and affect an injured party’s right of recourse and/or damages recoverable against the defendant in an aviation accident. Some examples of such federal legislation and treaties are the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA), 49 U.S.C. §40101; the Warsaw Convention, 49 U.S.C. §40105; the Montreal Convention of 1999 (effective 2003); the Death On The High Seas Act (DOHSA), 46 U.S.C. §761-767; the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. Chapter 171 (FTCA/governmental liability issues); and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C.§§1602-1611.
Did you know? Attorney Dennis G. Charles of Charles Law Offices is a licensed private pilot and instrument-trained aviator. Attorney Charles is knowledgeable and proficient in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, rules and procedures for General Aviation, sport pilots and instructors appearing in the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) and Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM). He is an aircraft owner and member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) and Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association (MAPA).
In any mass transit accident involving a bus, investigation is critical. Although a bus accident may appear to be simple on its face, in reality it may raise multiple components or issues which need investigation including, without limitation:
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – an independent federal agency dedicated to promoting aviation, railroad, highway, marine and pipeline safety – investigates school bus cases and other bus cases involving catastrophic injuries. The NTSB report, however, is NOT admissible evidence in a civil action for damages as a result of the Independent Safety Board Act, 49 U.S.C. §1154(b).
Federal preemption of state laws is a prominent issue in railroad litigation. Often times, the courts find that state law claims applying federal standards are not preempted. For example, the Locomotive Inspect Act (LIA), 49 U.S.C. §20701, mandates that locomotives and their parts to be kept “in proper condition and safe to operate without unnecessary danger of personal injury.” The Third Circuit has recently ruled that the Locomotive Inspect Act (LIA) does not preempt a railroad’s state law claims where federal standards of care apply. In contrast, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Locomotive Inspect Act (LIA) occupies the field of locomotive design and construction and therefore preempts state law. Kurns v. Railroad Friction Products Corp., 132 S.Ct. 1261 (2012). Another federal statute that is a source of preemption issues — particularly in the areas of accident litigation, safety regulation cases, and water damage litigation — is the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. §20101, which was enacted “to promote safety in every area of railroad operations and reduce railroad-related accidents.”
Did you know? In 2005, in a case argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals involving a mass transit train crash fatality, Charles Law Offices successfully persuaded the Court that crashes caused by obstructed site lines should be exempted from the Federal preemption mandates and, in so doing, established legal precedent in the Third Circuit that subsequently was followed in other circuits of the federal court system throughout the United States.
Some issues involving the defendant railroad’s duties arise in the context of:
Mass transit accident cases typically involve scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge beyond that possessed by a layperson. Therefore, the court usually requires expert testimony to establish the duty and standard of care required of the common carrier, and how the common carrier’s departure from that duty and standard of care caused the victim’s injuries and damages.
Rule 702 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence defines an “expert” as “a witness qualified… by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education” and permits such individual to testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise. The attorneys at Charles Law Offices use some of the nation’s finest experts in the fields of aviation and aeronautics, science and engineering, accident reconstruction, medicine, physics, bio-mechanics, pharmacology, toxicology, psychiatry, psychology, and other forensic disciplines in successfully representing injured plaintiffs in personal injury and mass transit accident litigation.
With nearly 40 years of trial experience, legal training and success in handling all types of personal injury lawsuits, Attorneys Fredrick E. Charles and Dennis G. Charles are second to none when it comes to guarding your legal rights and winning the money damages you deserve. Our record of big trial victories, large verdicts, and out-of-court settlements speaks for itself. We know how to stand up to large common carriers and large corporations to get you the compensation that you are legally entitled to for the harm you have suffered.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with a lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the attorneys at Charles Law Offices.
The Charles Brothers’ devotion to the law is derived from a family history in the legal system and of service to others. Their father, Charles “Chink” Charles (depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the photograph) held a 35 year career in law enforcement, and was selected to serve as the personal bodyguard for former United States Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson during their campaign visits to Allentown.