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Public Transit Disasters and Who’s Legally Responsible

On Behalf of | Nov 30, 2017 | Commercial Vehicle Accidents

By Pendergast Law on November 30, 2017

Seattle’s love of public and alternative forms of transportation has been well documented, and that love affair has a testament in the Seattle Center Monorail. Seattle’s Monorail is both a city landmark and the oldest full-scale commercial monorail system in the nation. While it is an integral part of the city’s transportation infrastructure, it is also a destination for tourists from all over the world.

A Short History of Seattle’s Monorail

The Seattle Center Monorail was originally built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, serving to connect the fairgrounds with downtown. It opened to the public on March 24, 1962, and cost more than $3.5 million. In the first six months of operation during the fair, it carried more than eight million passengers. When the fair ended, the Monorail was turned over to Century 21 Corporation, and subsequently sold to the city in 1965 for $600,000.

Today, the monorail carries approximately two million riders every year, making it an important fixture both for locals and out-of-towners. It is especially popular for sporting events, festivals, and other downtown events. The Seattle Center Monorail is one of only a handful of fully self-sufficient public transit rail systems in the United States.

While the monorail is generally a safe means of getting around the city, accidents do happen, and when they happen, victims may wonder who is liable for their injuries. Many long-time Seattle residents remember the collision in 2005 that sent two passengers to the hospital and forced the evacuation of over 80 riders. In that accident, two trains on the elevated tracks near Fifth Avenue and Olive Way scraped against each other, ripping off a door and leaving the trains out of service for several months.

A Public Transit Victim’s Rights

While accidents like this are not common, you need to understand what your rights are — even if you’re not a victim (and hopefully never will be).

Public transportation systems such as the Seattle Center Monorail are known as common carriers. A common carrier transports goods and/or passengers and is responsible for any possible loss of the goods during transport. One important feature of a common carrier is that it offers its services to the general public under the authority of a regulatory body.

Since common carriers have been entrusted with transporting members of the public, they are held by law to a higher standard of care than private drivers. If they fail to exercise this special care toward their passengers, they are liable for personal injuries that occur even when there is only slight negligence on their part. This liability stays intact under nearly all circumstances, with the following exceptions:

  • an act of nature,
  • a criminal act of a third party,
  • fault or fraud on the part of the shipper or passenger, and
  • an inherent defect in the goods being shipped.

For passengers of the Seattle Monorail and other forms of public transportation, this means that the city or operator is liable for any injuries that occur while on board, boarding or deboarding, or in the proximity of the vehicle, the stop, etc. When an accident occurs, you have legal recourse to file a claim against the owner, the operator, and/or the staff if they failed to adequately protect your safety while a passenger. This even applies to non-passengers, like the drivers of other vehicles, cyclists, or pedestrians who may have been affected by the accident.

The Same Liability Extends to All Seattle Public Transportation

Of course, public transportation in the Seattle area involves much more than just the monorail. In addition to other rail systems, such as trains and streetcars, Seattle transport also includes buses, aviation, ferries, ports, taxis, and other forms of travel. Each of these systems has its own oversight and regulations, and unique laws that may apply to only that particular form of transportation.

As a port city, Seattle residents rely on ferries to get around. Residents and visitors to the surrounding islands often use the ferries on a daily basis. While there have been no fatal accidents in the last five decades, the deadliest accident in Seattle’s history was the sinking of the steamboat Dix, which killed around 42 people in 1906. In addition, a number of ship fires and collisions have been reported more recently.

No matter what kind of accident has occurred, victims who have been injured in an incident involving public transportation need to take action quickly. Early investigation by an attorney is crucial to a successful outcome. It is important to have an advocate who is experienced with the legal issues surrounding personal injury (and common carriers) who can work towards getting you the compensation you deserve.

If you want to know more about the exciting world of government transit liability or have legal questions about your own accident-related injury, feel free to call Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., at 888-539-9211.