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Bus Passenger Injuries: When Can a Driver be sued in Negligence?

When a Bus Driver is involved in an at-fault collision causing injury to the passengers a suit for damages can usually be brought.  What if there is no collision but instead the bus driver makes an abrupt move causing injury to the passengers, can a suit succeed on these facts?  Depending on the circumstances the answer is yes.  Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, addressing this area of the law.
In this week’s case (Habib v. Jack) the Plaintiff was injured while riding on a bus in Burnaby, BC.  The Plaintiff testified that the driver went over a speed bump and that “her seat cushion slid out from under her and she became briefly airborne during which time her neck snapped forward and back“.  The Court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit finding that the Defendant drove the bus appropriately.  Prior to making this finding Madam Justice Ross provided the following useful discussion addressing this area of the law:

[26] The standard of care owed by a transit operator to a passenger was addressed in Day v. Toronto Transportation Commission, [1940] S.C.R. 433. Justice Hudson described the duty as follow:

Although the carrier of passengers is not an insurer, yet if an accident occurs and the passenger is injured, there is a heavy burden on the defendant carrier to establish that he had used all due, proper and reasonable care and skill to avoid or prevent injury to the passenger. The care required is of a very high degree: 4 Hals., p. 60, paras. 92 and 95. In an old case of Jackson v. Tollett [(1817) 2 Starkie 37], the rule was stated by Lord Ellenborough, at p. 38, as follows:

Every person who contracts for the conveyance of others, is bound to use the utmost care and skill, and if, through any erroneous judgment on his part, any mischief is occasioned, he must answer for the consequences.

[27] In this province, Madam Justice Humphries summarized the principles to be applied in Lawson v. B.C. Transit, 2002 BCSC 1438, as follows at paragraph 18:

As set out in Wang v. Harrod, supra, once an accident has occurred, the defendant must meet the heavy burden of establishing that he used all proper and reasonable care and skill to avoid or prevent injury to the passenger. The standard of care imposed is the conduct expected of a reasonably prudent bus driver in the circumstances. The court must consider the experience of an average bus driver, as well as anything that the particular driver knew or should have known about the passenger. The standard of care required is higher when the driver knew or ought to have known that the passenger was handicapped or elderly.

[28] Mr. Justice Berger in Sawatsky v. Romanchuk, [1979] B.C.J. No. 964 (S.C.) noted that:

…this is not a case where negligence has been established. I say that because, though the bus lurched as it started up, it was a lurch that she, as someone who had travelled on the buses for twenty years had experienced in the past. Anyone who travels on the buses must expect that from time to time the movement of the buses will not be smooth and uneventful. Lurches are part of the movement of these buses and something that the people who travel on the buses learn to expect. Accidents do happen. And there are bound to be some accidents on the bus system. And some of them, like this accident, will not give rise to a right to damages.

Madam Justice Ross goes on to cite about a dozen other cases dealing with Bus Passenger injuries in BC making this week’s case a good starting point in researching bus driver liability for injury to passengers.

bc injury law, bus accidents, Bus Passenger Injuries, Habib v. Jack, liability, Madam Justice Ross

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