50 young adults including several armed violent felons with dozens of bottles of liquor enter a party bus with disco lights flashing music blaring. It is a Friday night, and the driver finished a 40-hour work week in his job as a dump truck driver. He is tired and the party bus company has not trained him to manage passengers or provided him with any security. He drives an old bus modified with perimeter seating, a stripper’s pole, and curtains on the windows. Even with the loud noise and the obstructed view the driver observes passengers fighting. The driver just wants this night to be over. The allotted time for the party bus has expired and the driver drops off the passengers in a neighborhood around 1:00 am. Passengers are assaulted by other passengers as they exit the bus and after leaving the bus. While one may be sympathetic to the predicament of this driver, the party bus company should have trained the driver as to steps that should be taken once it becomes clear that there is a threat to his passengers.
Party buses are often the most dangerous commercial motor vehicles because they are frequently owned and operated by companies whose primary business is providing limo services. Limo companies enter this market because they are asked to service larger events than a stretch limousine is unable to accommodate. These party bus events are almost always on the weekend. The limo company is probably not owned and operated by person that has driven a full-size bus in their career. The party bus market is often supplied by small limo companies that take the following steps:
● The company buys an old bus and converts into a party bus by replacing standard seats with perimeter seats and adding a sound system.
● The limo company most likely does not have a trained bus mechanic on staff.
● The party bus is often the only vehicle in the fleet that requires a CDL.
● The party bus is almost exclusively used on the weekends, so the company hires a CDL driver that often has another full-time job as a CDL driver.
This business model increases the chances that the bus is poorly maintained, inadequately inspected, and prone to mechanical failures. The driver is hired on a contract basis by a company that is expecting the driver to be the expert on safety. A CDL driver may have little to no experience with the vehicle that he is being hired to drive. Established commercial motor vehicle companies often have other CDL drivers and safety directors that train the new driver how to drive the truck or bus that he will operate. Limousine companies may embody less commercial driving knowledge than the driver they are hiring.
Hiring a driver to work part-time on the weekends increases the chances that the driver is exceeding the maximum number of safe driving hours permitted under federal law. The removing and reconfiguring of seats increases the chances that the company will accept paying guests up to the buses stated capacity before the seating was changed. The installation of a sound system and disco lights coupled with a fatigued driver impairs the ability of the party bus company to monitor passenger behavior. If someone is injured in this dangerous mix a lawyer must bring together multiple areas of law to find the safety violations that led to an accident or led to a passenger being violently attacked.
Even though, a party bus sells excitement and fun it is still a means of transportation. A party bus is still subject to a historic legal duty that goes back to English law. Before America was colonized the English legal system grappled with people that were injured while staying at an Inn or while be transported in a horse drawn carriage. The English courts recognized that customers’ safety was as the mercy of the innkeeper or a driver. This led to the inn keeper and common carrier heightened duty.
Maryland has adopted this common carrier law and applies it to anyone who engages in public transportation of persons for hire. A common carrier is required to use the utmost degree of care, skill, and diligence in everything that concerns its passenger’s safety. The application of the common carrier duty is premised on transporting passengers. If a party bus stays at a fixed location these duties would not apply. The typical party bus trip involves transportation from or to an event. This triggers the heightened duty.
A Moving Night Club will never be as Safe as a Stationary Night Club or Passenger Bus.
The Party Bus industry developed because limousines could not handle enough passengers for certain events. Limousine companies typically are not well versed in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act that applies to party buses but does not apply to the rest of the companies vehicles. Large passenger busses are designed for safety with rows of padded seats. Party bus companies often buy buses from large bus companies that are being retired from their fleet. The party bus company then modifies the bus to include built in music systems, party lights and perimeter seating.
Commercial busses list maximum seating capacities that are based on the manufacture’s design. Once seats are removed the maximum safe seating capacity decreases. Party bus operators may rely on the manufacturer’s bus capacity when booking events. This may result in passengers not having a place to sit. The use of perimeter seating also creates a large open area for passengers to walk and to move about the bus. With party lights turned on and music playing it is foreseeable that passengers will bump into each other and will sustain serious injuries if a crash occurs.
Every state has unique laws pertaining to the responsibility of those that serve alcohol to others. This is an area that should be explored in every party bus case involving alcohol consumption. A party bus is essentially a mobile night club that usually does not have security and procedures in place for the safe consumption of alcohol by customers.
Common carriers owe passengers a duty to take affirmative action to protect them from violence or assaults by a third party if, in the exercise of proper care, the driver knew or should have known such acts were imminent and could have prevented them with the force in it command. Maryland Pattern Jury Instruction – Civil 8:5.
THE BUS DRIVER IS RESPONSIBLE FOR ENFORCING THE COMMON CARRIER DUTIES
Party Bus drivers are often not properly trained to operate a party bus.
There is a shortage of trained commercial motor vehicle drivers. Operating a party bus is much different than operating most commercial motor vehicles. To operate a full-sized party-bus the driver must have a CDL. Party bus and limousine companies are busy on the weekends and during special events. Party bus companies often hire commercial drivers that have another employer during the week. It is possible that the driver of your party bus drives a tractor-trailer or a delivery vehicle during the week. A bus driver has unique obligations to monitor the conduct of passengers and at times to take steps to protect passengers from foreseeable assaults by other passengers. A transit bus driver or a driver for a motor carrier undergoes training for these obligations. “[The duty] springs from a condition, not of the carrier’s but of a third party’s creation, coupled with knowledge by the carrier’s [driver] that the condition exists, and with time enough between the acquisition of the knowledge and the infliction of the injury to enable the [driver] of the carrier to protect the passenger from the third party’s misconduct.” Todd v. Mass Transit Admin., 373 Md. 149, 158 (2002). The party bus has this obligation for the entire time that the passenger is in the care of the company. Leatherwood Motor Coach v. Nathan, 84 Md. App. 370 (1989).
Premises law requires a buildings and other structures to be free of dangerous conditions such as tripping hazards. A party bus is often redesigned with a focus on the party and not safety. The installation of loud music systems and party lights compromises a bus driver’s ability to monitor passenger conduct and to make sure that passengers are not acting in a dangerous fashion. The installation of stripper poles or perhaps slick dance floor flooring creates other dangers. Maryland has found that a special relationship between a business owner and a customer, obligating the business owner to protect the customer arises when three elements are present:
● the owner controlled a dangerous condition,
● the owner knew or should have known of the injury causing condition; and
● the harm suffered was a foreseeable result of that condition.
Troxel v. Iguana Cantina LLC, 201 Md. App. 476, 496 (2011). If a passenger is seriously injured on a party bus, a lawyer should be retained to investigate the incident and the applicable laws.
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