Common Carrier

Common Carrier

Summary of Common Carrier

Read Carrier as cross-reference

(Main Author: William J. Miller)

Common Carrier

Common Carrier, any person or agency publicly engaged in the business of transporting passengers or freight by land, water, or air. By extension and legislative enactment, the term also applies to public utility and public service companies. Common carriers include railroads, steamships, airlines, buses, trucks, freight forwarders, express companies, teamsters, truckers, operators of pipelines, and telephone, telegraph, and satellite-communication companies. In the U.S., most are federally regulated.

With the exception of airlines, all common carriers engaged in transportation of freight and passengers in interstate commerce are regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission. The commission has extensive powers, including the authority to establish minimum and maximum transportation rates and charges, to prohibit discrimination against communities by the common carriers, and to approve or reject proposed mergers of carriers. Authority over waterborne carriers is vested in the Federal Maritime Commission. Those engaged in air transportation are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration and the Office of Essential Air Service of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Federal Communications Commission regulates communications companies. Control of common carriers engaged in intrastate operations falls within the jurisdiction of the various states.

Because of the special responsibilities of the common carrier to the community, persons or agencies engaged in the transportation of goods have been subjected by the common law to two stringent obligations. First, service is compulsory, that is, it must be provided for all, without discrimination. Second, the carrier is liable for loss of or injury to the goods entrusted to it, whether or not it is guilty of negligence. It is commonly stated that carriers are responsible for any loss or damage from any cause “except the act of God or of the public enemy.” An act of God means only an inevitable accident that occurs without the intervention of a human agency. The term public enemy is applied to any government engaged in an act of war or public hostility against the government of the common carrier. In addition to the exemptions cited, the carrier is not responsible for losses occurring because of acts of the government or through defaults on the part of the shipper, or for losses resulting from the nature of the goods-for example, those caused by ordinary decay of perishable articles.

The extensive common law liability of a common carrier may be qualified by a special contract agreed to by the shipper. The contract is usually contained in the bill of lading and baggage check.

Common carriers engaged in the transportation of passengers are bound to carry them to their destination with reasonable dispatch in accordance with published timetables, and, as with the transportation of goods, they must provide such service for all, without discrimination. If the carrier fails to do so and if no common law or statutory exemption of responsibility exists, the passenger may bring suit for damages. Like the carrier of goods, the carrier of passengers usually limits liability by notice or stipulation printed on the ticket. The carrier, however, is not exempt from liability for negligence with respect to passenger safety. The common carrier is obligated to exercise care and diligence in the transportation of passengers, commensurate with its extraordinary responsibility. The carrier is completely responsible for baggage entrusted to its care. (1)

Common Carrier in International Trade

Meaning of Common Carrier, according to the Dictionary of International Trade (Global Negotiator): In some jurisdictions, a legal term referring to carriers who offer transport services to the general consumer or business public. In contrast, for example, to carriers who may work as employees, sub-contractors or agents of the manufacturer or shipper.


Notes and References

  1. Encarta Online Encyclopedia

See Also