NJ Supreme Court Holds that NJ Transit is held to Heightened Duty of Care to its Passengers
On February 17, 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court in Maison v. New Jersey Transit Corporation held that NJ Transit, which is a public common carrier of passengers, is held to the same heightened duty of care regulating private carriers.
By way of background, the case involved a young woman whose forehead was severely injured after teenage passengers threw a bottle at her face. The teenagers were never arrested and the NJ Transit bus operator never told the teenagers to stop harassing plaintiff.
Plaintiff ultimately sued NJ Transit which resulted in a trial verdict of $1,800,000. The trial court determined that the common-carrier standard applied to NJ Transit, and that Tort Claims Act immunities did not shield NJ Transit from liability. The trial court also held that the jury could not allocate fault to the unidentified bottle thrower.
The Appellate Division affirmed, except that it found the trial court erred when it instructed the jury to not allocate fault on the intentional tortfeasor. The case was remanded to the jury to determine what percentage of fault should be allocated to the bottle thrower.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts and held that NJ Transit and its bus drivers are held to the same duty of care governing private common carriers. That duty required NJ Transit “to exercise the utmost caution to protect their passengers as would a very careful and prudent person under similar circumstances.” Tort Claims Act immunities that may be available do not impact this duty of care. Finally, the Tort Claims Act required the jury to consider allocating fault not only between NJ Transit and the bus driver, but also the bottle thrower.
Thanks to Mike Noblett for his contribution to this post. If you have any questions or comments, please contact Colleen Hayes.