Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Equal Protection of the Laws?

I just ran across Browne v. SCR Medical Transportation Services, a case decided by the Illinois Court of Appeals two months ago. The case was a tort action brought by a person with cerebral palsy against the contractor that provides paratransit services for the Chicago Transit Authority. The plaintiff alleged that one of the defendant's drivers sexually assaulted her on two occasions when she was using the paratransit service. Because paratransit is a substitute for regular mass transit, she contended that the defendant was operating as a "common carrier" -- a status that, in tort law, would give the defendant a heightened responsibility to protect its passengers from harm.

The court rejected that argument. Because the defendant agreed to transport only those individuals with disabilities who could not use the regular mass transit service, the court held that it was not open to all comers as required to be a common carrier. The court relied on an earlier precedent that held that a contractor who provided school bus services for special education students was not a common carrier: "the bus company provided a specific service to a specific group of people because it only transported special education students between home and school by specific agreement."


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