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Be prepared. The Boy Scout motto provides words to live by
for all of us, but as some recent headlines reveal — “Bus beating being
probed;” “Gruesome Manitoba bus killing suspect held;” and “Bus bomb kills 8,
injures 50” — it is especially important if you are a motorcoach company
manager or owner.
But being prepared is not easy in a world full of threats.
The questions abound: How can you stop, prevent or deter attacks? What steps
could be taken to minimize trouble? What is your legal obligation to protect
The coach industry and every company operating as part of
the national transportation network must develop countermeasures to possible
life-threatening situations. Many companies have already done so. The question
is, what have you done? Is it enough? What might be done next? Where do private
sector obligations meet governmental responsibilities?
What is your duty?
A passenger transportation provider has a significant
obligation to protect its riders. The specific nature of that obligation can
and will vary. First, by the laws of the jurisdiction involved (each state has
established its own set of standards.) Second, by the nature of the trip;
charter trips often have a different legal definition than the more open
obligations of line or scheduled service. Despite these factors, the bus
company must act to prevent accidents and protect its passengers from injury.
The company’s obligation derives from the long-standing
duties of a common carrier, where many circumstances make mandatory the
implementation of prevention programs. As always, the law and the duties it
imparts vary and are subject to interpretation. According to the wording of one
“transport…includes the obligation on the part of the
carrier to guarantee to its passenger respectful and courteous treatment, and
to protect them, not only from violence and insults from strangers, but also
from violence and insult from the carrier’s own agents.*”
Pennsylvania-based trial lawyer Gerald McHugh
(www.geraldmchugh.com) has years of
experience handling negligence litigation, which has placed him in a unique
position of understanding that every dispute has two sides. McHugh offers the
following thoughts on the subject:
“As a common carrier, a bus line would owe its passengers
the highest duty of care in most states. That would include a duty to identify and guard against foreseeable
risks. However, stating the legal duty is one thing; describing it in the real
world is much more difficult…
As a lawyer for plaintiffs, my assessment of…a passenger
attack incident would hinge on two critical factors. First, what had been the carrier’s previous
experience with incidents of criminal assault, and in particular, had it
identified any particular routes that were plagued with incidents? If so, some
program of deterrence, such as periodic plain clothed security guard on a bus,
or a video system, accompanied by notices to passengers of such surveillance,
would seem to be practical options in an effort to inhibit criminal activity.
The second critical area is the carrier’s response system
when an incident has occurred. Were
drivers able to make instant contact with local police along the route? Did drivers have a protocol to follow in the
event of an incident?”
From an expert litigator, these words provide a clear
pathway to passenger carrier loss and litigation prevention.
Nature of threat
Criminal activity, which may occur on board a bus or coach,
is often described as simply reflecting criminal behavior in our culture. To
some extent, this is certainly true. But now, in 2008, the nature of crime that
can and does impact the bus and coach industry has taken on a new dimension.
What is being discussed today is terrorism.
Terrorism has in the past been defined as “government by
intimidation.” A United Nations panel determined that terrorism is an act
“intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants
with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an
international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.” And sadly,
those acts of terrorism have targeted buses. Worldwide, buses are a key target,
by default, as other targets become harder to strike.
But terrorism, at its simplest level defined as malevolent
criminal action, is not the only threat. Crimes against persons and property
impact the bus industry as well. One informal study by an expert in loss
prevention showed serious bus passenger incidents occurring once every three weeks;
other data released in past litigation matters showed that unfit passengers
were expelled from (or denied transportation on) bus travel almost daily.
No service provider in the bus and coach industry is immune
from the threat of crime and violence. Being prepared means understanding that
theft, abuse and attack are the minor league equivalents to the big league of
hijackings, murder and potential terrorist incidents. Each needs a plan to
address risk and a plan for response.