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Contracts are a part of everyday life for most people — often without even realizing they have entered into a contract. When a person buys a ticket on a common carrier, for example, he or she has entered into a contract of carriage. Common carriers, such as airlines, buses, trains and ships, enter into a contract of carriage every time they agree to transport a passenger or goods from one location to another. The contract of carriage generally outlines the duties and responsibilities of the carrier, as well as the rights and responsibilities of the passenger or owner of the goods.
The basic tenants of contract law in most jurisdictions require that there be an offer, and acceptance of that offer, and consideration for a legal contract to be formed. In the case of transportation of passengers or goods, the offer is to transport, the acceptance happens when the owner of the goods or the passenger buys a ticket, and the consideration is the price of the ticket. Once all three of those things have taken place, a contract of carriage has been formed in most jurisdictions.
When the contract of carriage is for commercial goods, the terms of the contract are frequently outlined in a traditional contract form. Both sides to the contract are expected to have read the terms and signed the contract. When the transport is for a passenger, however, the terms of the contract are generally located at the bottom of the ticket, or on the back, in fine print. In addition, in lieu of a signature acknowledging acceptance of the terms, most common carriers include language along the lines of "purchase of a ticket constitutes acceptance of the terms found herein."
Although each contract for carriage will be unique, there are common terms found in many contracts. Provisions dealing with an act of God, or force majeure, are often found in a contract of carriage. These provisions typically release the carrier of his or her responsibilities otherwise found in the contract in the event that an act of God, or other intervening force beyond his or her control, prevents execution or compliance with his or her duties under the contract.
Other common provisions found in a contract of carriage include provisions for cancellation of the contract, responsibility of any luggage brought by a passenger, and a provision addressing time lines for departure and arrival. Most private passengers do not think of a ticket as a contract and, therefore, do not bother to read the terms and conditions found therein unless something goes wrong. In most jurisdictions, a common carrier must provide a potential passenger with a copy of the terms and conditions before he or she purchases a ticket, which allows a potential passenger to understand the contract he or she is entering into before purchasing the ticket if he or she chooses to do so.