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The extraordinary duty of care imposed on a common carrier by Cal. Civ. Code § 2100 reflects a legislative judgment that the risk of harm to passengers is great. One of the risks of public transportation is assault on the passengers. The apparent purpose of § 2100 is to hold a common carrier accountable for its negligence or the negligence of its employees in maintaining the safety of the carrier's passengers. The statute makes no distinction between publicly owned and privately owned carriers.
Plaintiffs Lopez et al. (the victims) alleged the following facts. Defendant, Southern California Rapid Transit District, (hereafter RTD) is a public corporation engaged in business as a common carrier for hire transporting members of the general public in Los Angeles County. Carmen and Carla Lopez, Yolanda and Jose De Dios and Zenaida Arce were riding as paying passengers on one of defendant's buses at about 6:40 in the evening near LaBrea Avenue and Venice Boulevard in Los Angeles. At that time a fight broke out among some of the passengers on the bus. The driver of the bus knew that the fight was taking place but "failed to take any precautionary measures." The five victims sustained injuries as a result of the fight. The victims further alleged the RTD knew violent incidents occurred daily or weekly on board its buses and that there had been previous assaults on passengers and operators of buses on this particular route. Before this particular altercation broke out, the operator was aware that a group of juveniles had boarded the bus and were harassing other passengers. RTD demurred to plaintiffs' first amended complaint on the ground, inter alia, that it failed to state a cause of action; specifically that the RTD owed no duty of care to the victims and that it is immune from liability by reason of Government Code section 845. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend on the ground the RTD is immune from liability under the facts of this case by reason of section 845.
Must the victims of criminal violence on board its buses be denied recovery for the RTD's breach of duty to "use the utmost care and diligence for their safe carriage"?
The court found that a special relationship existed between the victims and RTD because the victims were dependent on RTD for their safety. The court found that Cal. Civ. Code § 2100 imposed a duty on every common carrier to anticipate that which was reasonably foreseeable, and to prevent that which was reasonably preventable in the way of violent injury to its passengers. The court found that RTD was not afforded immunity by Cal. Civ. Code § 845. The court reversed the judgment of the trial court dismissing the victims’ complaint and granted them leave to amend the complaint in conformity with the views expressed in the opinion.