This past weekend, a bus accident in Allston, Massachusetts, carried with it a tragic and recurring theme: A bus company charged with the safety of dozens of people, and ultimately failing in its most basic duty to its customers and public. While news reports show the immediate aftermath, the lives of many of the victims will be changed forever.

In the days to come, the media and others will no doubt be discussing the legal issues raised by accidents like this. The law that applies to bus accidents in Massachusetts depends on the services offered by the bus company involved. Some bus companies, like train and taxi companies, are “common carriers” under Massachusetts law. “Common carriers” are companies that hold themselves out to the public as willing to provide transportation to anyone who pays the fee. For example, an MBTA or Greyhound bus would likely fall under this category. Common carriers, like train operators and taxis, owe a very high duty of care to their customers, higher than other motor vehicle operators. Massachusetts law imposes this high duty of care on bus companies due to the numbers of people who place themselves in the hands of these companies for hire, and the fact that the bus companies are in a unique and singular position to protect their customers. The law is also a result of the magnitude of harm that can occur when bus companies do not live up to this legal duty.

A slightly different duty applies to private charter buses and livery companies, known as “private carriers” under Massachusetts law. These companies make private contracts to transport people and choose who they do business with. Private carriers do not owe the highest duty of care of common carriers; instead, they are held to a duty of reasonable care, a slightly lesser duty that applies to all motorists. For a discussion of the difference, see Commerce v. Ultimate Livery Service Inc.

Although Massachusetts imposes differing duties on private and common carriers, the fundamentals of a personal injury case against both kinds of bus companies remain similar. A person injured by a bus company’s negligence must ultimately prove that the bus company breached its duty and caused them harm. In proving that a breach occurred, bus accident cases will often involve the intersection of the laws and regulations of different states and even cities, as well as federal laws and regulations concerning motor vehicle safety and interstate bus travel.

The legal system can never change or repair the damage done by negligent bus companies, and the accident in Allston is no different. It can, however, provide a meaningful way for victims, as private citizens, not only to obtain compensation but to play a role in enforcing the laws and regulations that, when followed, are supposed to prevent events like this from happening.

Like any other legal matter, proper handling of bus accident cases in Massachusetts requires lawyers with knowledge of the many different laws that apply to these tragedies, and experience in handling complex bus accident litigation. SUGARMAN lawyers have handled some of the most noteworthy bus accident cases in Massachusetts.

If you have a family member seriously injured by the negligence of a bus company and wish to speak with one of our bus accident attorneys, please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000 or e-mail