Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
King v. Vets Cab, Inc., 179 Kan. 379, 295 P.2d 605 (1956).
This case addresses the following issue:
Are taxi cab drivers considered common carriers under Kansas law?
With the rise of railroads, steamboats, and (later on) buses, the law began to impose heightened standards of care that these common carriers owed to their passengers. Id. at 382-83. In this case, the court was asked to determine if taxi cabs were considered common carriers, even though these vehicles carried only single passengers, rather than large groups of passengers. Id. at 383. After weighing the factors, the court determined that taxi cabs were common carriers and owed a heightened duty of care to passengers, just before, during, and just after transporting them. Id. at 383-84.
In this case, Plaintiff hailed one of Defendant’s taxis in Wichita. Id. at 381. Plaintiff was carrying boxes that she had picked up for delivery to her employer. Id. Once Plaintiff reached her destination, she began struggling greatly to exit the vehicle. Id. at 382. This was partially due to the packages Plaintiff had with her and partially due to missing handles in the rear of the cab. Id. Plaintiff twice asked the driver for assistance, but the driver did not respond at all. Id. Plaintiff believed she had her belongs and bearings, and reached for the door. Id. However, the door opened quickly and caused Plaintiff to tumble from the vehicle. Id. Plaintiff suffered injuries from her fall onto the pavement outside of the cab. Id.
Normally, drivers of vehicles only owe a duty of “reasonable care” to their passengers. Id. at 382-83. Common carriers, however, owe a heightened duty of care to their passengers: “to exercise the highest degree of care that is reasonably practical in safely carrying passengers and setting them down safely at their destination.” Id. at 383. Thus, it is easier to succeed with a claim for negligence against a common carrier than against a “normal” driver. Id. This heightened duty also includes providing assistance to passengers in boarding and departing the vehicles. Id.
The court noted that this heightened duty arose from the fact that many passengers on common carriers have little choice in their means of travel. Id. Thus, unlike a passenger in a friend’s vehicle, a passenger of a common carrier has not undertaken any known risk; in fact, the passenger is counting on there being as little risk as possible from the professional driver, pilot, or conductor. Id. Though taxi cabs transport smaller numbers of passengers, these passengers still rightfully are counting on the professional driving ability of these companies. Id. Thus, taxi cabs are common carriers under Kansas law, and owe a heightened duty to passengers. Id. Finally, this duty includes providing any assistance necessary to passengers in entering and exiting the vehicle. Id. Defendant’s failure to assist Plaintiff in this case was a breach of this duty, and the jury was correct in finding for Plaintiff. Id.