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Bus Driver Not Liable For Rowdy Passengers (NJ)

January 5, 2018

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <a href="http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/attorneys/assets/opinions/appellate/unpublished/a1770-16.pdf"><em>Dawkins v. One Bus,</em></a> the New Jersey Appellate Division considered whether expert testimony was required for a plaintiff to pursue claims against a bus company for the driver’s failure to contact her dispatcher when rowdy teens boarded the bus.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff was riding in a bus operated by defendant when four teenagers boarded the same bus. At the bus stop, one teenager boarded at the front of the bus, while the remaining three teenagers boarded at the bus’s rear door without paying their fares. According to plaintiff, the teenagers “were standing in the aisle of the bus . . . being rude to other passengers [and] . . . talking bad about some passengers.” The bus driver informed the teenagers entering at the rear doors that they would have to board via the front entrance and pay their fares. However, the teens refused and remained on the bus. As plaintiff was exiting at the bus’s rear doors, one of the teenagers kicked plaintiff in the back, causing her to slide down the rear steps of the bus. Another teenager also threw a bottle of bleach at plaintiff’s face.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff filed suit, alleging her injuries occurred as a result of the defendant bus company’s negligence. Plaintiff served a liability expert report, who opined that: (1) the driver should have immediately contacted the dispatcher when the teens boarded the bus and failed to pay their fare; and (2) the driver should have contacted the dispatcher when it was obvious that the teens were harassing other passengers.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At the conclusion of discovery, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding no link to demonstrate that if the driver had contacted the dispatcher, the incident could have been prevented. The trial judge also found plaintiff’s expert unqualified to render his opinions since he lacked a foundation based on any objective standard.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision and agreed that plaintiff failed to demonstrate by competent evidence that defendant owed her a duty, that there was a breach of that duty, and that her injuries were caused by defendant’s breach. Specifically, the Appellate Division reasoned that there was no evidence that the bus driver was aware of any threats to the passengers. Under a totality of circumstances analysis, there was no evidence that any foreseeable harm would come to the passengers, let alone that a passenger would be kicked and then assaulted with bleach.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Without any information regarding the danger to the passengers, there were no reasonable steps the driver could have taken to protect plaintiff. Lastly, the Appellate Division found that plaintiff’s expert report and testimony failed to support that the generally accepted standard is for a bus driver under similar circumstances is to contact the dispatcher.</p>
Thanks to Ken Eng for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono</a> for more information.

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