New York Attorney Christopher McGrath Discusses the Legal Consequences for Injured Passengers – In this insightful article, attorney Christopher T. McGrath explains that New Yorkers, injured while traveling on buses, may face unique defenses when they seek compensation from operators.
Any rider of a New York City bus has experienced a time when he or she felt unsteady due to a jerk, jolt or stop of the bus. However, an unusually violent movement of a bus may cause riders to fall or strike their head, resulting in severe personal injuries. In those instances, a seriously injured rider may be able to pursue a negligence claim.
In New York, to recover damages against the New York City Transit Authority or any other common carrier, where the movement of the bus has caused injury to a passenger, it is necessary for the passenger to show that the movement of the bus consisted of a jerk or lurch that was “unusual and violent.” Urquhart v. New York City Transit Authority, 85 N.Y.2d 828, 830 (1995). Proof must consist of more than the passenger’s own description of the stop or movement in those terms. For this reason, careful questioning of other witnesses, including the operator, is advised.
In a case entitled DiSalvatore v. New York City Transit Authority, 45 A.D.3d 402 (1st Dep’t 2007), an elderly woman brought an action against the New York City Transit Authority, the operator of a bus line. She testified at her deposition that, after boarding the bus in question, she walked “shakily” toward a seat because the bus was “speeding,” “swaying,” “jolting from side to side,” “bouncing up and down,” and “moving erratically in a way that I couldn’t get to my seat.” Under oath, she explained further that she had “never experienced anything like that in all [her] life on any bus,” and that the movement was “totally out of the ordinary.” Her injury happened when she turned around, with difficulty, to take a seat, and the bus made a “sharp turn.” She was thrown to the floor, slid down the aisle, and slammed her head into the metal base of a bus seat, fracturing her vertebrae.
The Transit Authority moved for what is known as “summary judgment,” a drastic remedy that deprives a party of her day in court because of lack of evidence. The Transit Authority argued that the injured passenger’s testimony did not provide “objective evidence” of the force of the claimed erratic movement. Her description, the Transit Authority claimed, was not sufficient to permit an inference that the movement was extraordinary and violent. Instead, at worst for the bus operator, the testimony only established that the bus jerked and jolted much as any other bus does ordinarily when it travels and makes stops; such operation would not be negligent.
The passenger’s attorneys were not going away without a fight. In preparation for the summary judgment motion, they took the sworn testimony of the bus driver. Skillfully, they elicited conflicting testimony from him, specifically: that he did not observe any passengers in the aisle when he pulled slowly and smoothly out of the stop; and was going only two to three miles per hour as he turned the corner. Of course, such a description was entirely at odds with that of the injured passenger. The Appellate Court ruled that such conflicting testimony by the parties raised issues of fact for a jury to resolve. Thus, this case was permitted to proceed to trial.
If you have been injured on a bus or by a bus, you should seek medical care immediately. Having obtained the necessary treatment for your injuries, you should then consult with a New York lawyer experienced in prosecuting tort and automobile accident claims. You may be able to recover compensation for lost wages, costs of medical care, and the pain and disabling effects of your injury.