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Better Customer Service Does Not Impose a Higher Duty of Care (NY)

May 8, 2017

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To succeed in a negligence action, the plaintiff must show that the defendant owed a duty of care to prevent or minimize the risk of harm that allegedly injured plaintiff. Any defendant who does not legally owe plaintiff a duty of care would therefore be entitled to summary judgment. But what happens when the accident allegedly occurs because of defendant’s failure to adhere to its own internal operating guidelines?
In <a href="">Ziman-Scheuer v Golden Touch Transp. of NY, Inc</a><em>.</em>, the elderly plaintiff alleged that she was injured when she fell while exiting a bus operated by defendant. As is common in many industries, Golden Touch maintained a series of internal rules that its drivers were required to follow. One of those rules required drivers to personally assist passengers when exiting the bus if they had difficulty doing so. The driver did not assist plaintiff as she exited the bus, and she argued that by failing to do so he had breached the duty of care owed to her.
The First Department reversed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The court held that defendant had no duty to assist plaintiff as she exited the bus. As a matter of law, internal rules of conduct by a corporation that go beyond the ordinary standard of care cannot serve as the basis for imposing liability. Thus, the bus company’s policy of providing assistance to passengers could not create a duty a legal sense.
This decision clarifies that the standard of care cannot be influenced or expanded by creative arguments based upon a company’s operating procedures and policies.
Thanks to Peter Luccarelli for his contribution.
For more information, contact Denise Fontana Ricci at <a href=""></a>.

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