Was There Objective Evidence to Hold MTA Liable?
Rosemary Orji allegedly was injured when she fell while aboard a bus. Orji testified at her deposition that as she was walking toward the rear seating area shortly after boarding the bus, the bus stopped at a red traffic light, which caused her to lose her grip on the railing and fall onto her left side.
Orji filed a personal injury action against the MTA Bus Company and “John Doe,” the owner and operator of the bus, respectively, alleging that they were negligent in the ownership and operation of the bus. MTA moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint, arguing that the movement that caused Orji to fall was not unusual or violent and was not of a different class than the jerks and jolts commonly experienced in city bus travel. Supreme Court denied the motion and, upon reargument, adhered to the original determination. MTA appealed.
To establish a prima facie case of negligence against a common carrier for injuries sustained by a passenger as a result of the movement of the vehicle, a plaintiff must establish that the movement consisted of a jerk or lurch that was unusual and violent. And may not satisfy that burden of proof merely by characterizing the stop as unusual and violent. There must be “objective evidence of the force of the stop sufficient to establish an inference that the stop was extraordinary and violent, of a different class than the jerks and jolts commonly experienced in city bus travel and, therefore, attributable to the negligence of defendant. In seeking summary judgment dismissing the complaint, however, common carriers have the burden of establishing, prima facie, that the movement of the vehicle was not unusual and violent.
Here, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Orji, MTA established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. MTA demonstrated, by submitting the transcript of Orji’s deposition testimony, that the movement of the bus was not unusual and violent or of a different class than the jerks and jolts commonly experienced in city bus travel.
The nature of the incident, according to Orji’s deposition testimony, was that she was caused to fall as the bus stopped at the intersection. According to Orji, who did not provide an estimate as to how fast the bus was traveling prior to stopping at the intersection, she was the only passenger on the bus who fell, although there was another passenger standing within two feet of her at the time. Orji testified that she landed on the floor near where she was standing prior to falling down. That was not, in itself, sufficient to provide the objective support necessary to demonstrate that the movement of the bus was unusual and violent, and of a different class than the jerks and jolts commonly experienced in city bus travel in opposition, Orji failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Accordingly, Supreme Court should have granted MTA’s motion and dismissed Orji’s complaint.