Judge Finds a Hot Air Balloon is Not a “Common Carrier”
It is well-established that a motorist owes every other motorist on the road a general duty of care – an obligation to operate his or her motor vehicle in a reasonable and careful manner so as not to expose others unnecessarily to a risk of harm. This general duty remains in place (and relatively unchanged) regardless of whether the motorist is traveling by him- or herself or has one or more passengers in the vehicle with him or her.
A defendant who is considered under California law to be a “common carrier,” however, has a more onerous burden and duty of care. Common carriers must use “utmost care and diligence” to assure passengers of their safety. While commercial and charter buses are examples of “common carriers,” roller coaster operators, scenic railway tours, and ski lifts have also been found to fit within the definition of common carriers. However, a recent decision suggests there are limits to the definition of “common carrier,” and, surprisingly, hot air balloon operators do not fit into such a definition!
Accident Leads to Injury Lawsuit
In a case, after suffering injuries in a crash landing in which a hot air balloon hit a fence, skidded, and landed on its side, the injured passengers sued the hot air balloon carrier. In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the hot air balloon operator was a “common carrier” and thus owed them a heightened duty of care that was not lessened or negated by the doctrine of assumption of risk. Essentially, the plaintiffs claimed that the hot air balloon operator had a duty to render the hot air balloon experience as safe as possible and protect them from events such as crash landings. The trial court, however, disagreed.
The Core of the Common Carrier Definition
Key to the court’s decision was an observation that common carriers, generally speaking, can exercise a great deal of control over the means of travel so that they can make travel for their passengers safer. That was the key to the Court’s decision. This is why roller coasters and trains are considered “common carriers” – control. There are investments and upgrades the owners of such conveyances can make in order to better protect their passengers.
This was apparently not found to be true with hot air balloons, however. No matter the amount of technology contained in the balloon’s equipment or the skill of the pilot, there are factors (such as the speed and direction of the wind) which the hot air balloon carrier cannot affect or control. This makes traveling by hot air balloon inherently risky and explains why a hot air balloon carrier is not a common carrier.
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If you or a loved one have been injured in a vehicle crash or accident in Riverside, contact Heiting & Irwin today to discuss your legal options. We can assist you in obtaining compensation for your losses and expenses. Call us at 951-682-6400 and set up your free initial consultation, or contact us online.