In Robinson v. Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, plaintiff boarded a city-operated bus. After paying the fair, she walked past the bus driver. She started walking toward the rear of the bus, gripping the hand rails on the seatbacks along the way. Driver closed the doors and began to drive away from the bus stop. As he approached a stop sign, he slammed on the breaks. Plaintiff lost her grip on the hand rail at this point and fell forward in a twisting motion. When she hit the bus floor she broke her left leg.
Plaintiff filed a suit against defendant transportation authority in which she alleged driver was negligent and caused her injury. She asserted two theories of negligence. Her first claim was driver violated defendant’s standard operating procedures (SOPs). Her second claim was driver’s excessive use of force on the brake pedal caused bus to jerk, which, in turn, negligently caused her injury.
In proving her case, plaintiff had a transportation safety engineer testify about SOPs for bus companies. He testified about U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) standards requiring bus drivers to check in the rearview mirror to make sure all passengers are ready to travel. The procedures also require bus operators to accelerate gradually and apply brakes smoothly. He further testified these standards had been adopted by defendant.
On cross-examination, expert testified the standards were developed from research that began 3,500 years ago, and the first major research in this area was the book of Deuteronomy. Driver also testified he did not check his mirror before pulling away from the stop. He said there were several open seats up front and assumed plaintiff sat in one of them. Plaintiff also testified she felt the bus was going faster than usual, and that is what caused her to lose her grip on the handrail.
After closing all evidence, defendant again moved for a directed verdict. Bus accident attorneys in Boston understand a motion for judgment as a matter of law or directed verdict must be raised at the conclusion of the plaintiff’s case in chief and again at the close of all evidence for it to be preserved. At this point, trial judged granted defendant’s motion for directed verdict. Plaintiff appealed this order.
On appeal, the court looked at the issue of whether there was proper testimony regarding the standard of care defendant owed to plaintiff in this particular case, based upon testimony of plaintiff’s expert. The court said it was tempted to look closer into expert’s claim the SOPs were based upon 3500-year-old research, and its link to the Old Testament, but decided not to on grounds that there was another independent problem.
The court found plaintiff’s case, even with expert testimony, failed to establish causation. Causation is a required element of any bus accident lawsuit in the jurisdiction of this case and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Essentially, the court was saying that, even if defendant did not adhere to the national standard of care, that breach did not actually cause the plaintiff’s injuries. She was not seated at the time of the crash and may have lost her grip even with a normal stop.
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