I commute most days to work by bus and am lucky that the most serious ‘accidents’ I have had to date have both affected my clothes only.
Knee Slicers and Sticky Chocolate Seating
Leg-room is not always great, depending on where you sit on the bus.
I once managed to make a neat straight cut through the knee of one trouser leg on the horizontal metal strip on the back of the seat in front of me.
More embarrassing was sitting down on a seat which someone had smeared with chocolate sauce.
I only realised when I had difficulty standing up to get off at my stop. I’ve learned from that experience to wear jeans on the bus and change into a suit once I get to the office.
Bus Timetabling Problems
Buses and coaches usually operate according to timetables.
Bus drivers have to do their best to keep things running on time.
This is a difficult job when there are so many variables.
These include things like: how much traffic there is on the road; how many passengers want picked up; whether they have the correct change for their fare; whether they speak English; whether they are willing to get off the bus reasonably quickly when they do not apparently speak English, know the destination they want or have any money on them, anyway (which I have experienced – it’s not easy to help someone who can’t tell you where they want to go).
The time pressure on bus drivers means that, when you get onto a bus, more likely than not it will move off from the stop before you get to a seat.
What is the position if the bus jerks as it moves off and you fall and are injured? Can you make a claim against the driver’s employers, the bus company?
Claiming if you fall before getting to your seat
Such claims are not generally straightforward.
The driver’s duty is the usual one of taking reasonable care in the circumstances.
The Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 basically restate that standard at regulation 5: “(1) A driver and a conductor shall take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of passengers who are on, or who are entering or leaving, the vehicle.”
The Bus Driver’s Duties and an Unsuccessful Claim
The best place to find the law here is probably in the case of Fletcher –v- United Counties Omnibus Co. Ltd.
This is a decision of the English Court of Appeal from 1997.
22-year-old Mrs Fletcher boarded a bus in Daventry. She saw a friend towards the back of the bus and decided to sit beside her. As she was making her way up the bus, it moved off in reasonable fashion but, shortly afterwards, had to make an emergency stop.
There was no suggestion that the bus driver was negligent in taking that action.
Unfortunately, Mrs Fletcher fell and suffered a serious injury to her spine.
She claimed against the bus company on the basis of vicarious liability.
She was originally successful on the ground that the driver had been negligent in failing to wait for Mrs Fletcher to sit down before he moved off.
The bus company appealed.
The Court of Appeal decided that Mrs Fletcher’s claim failed.
In the Court’s opinion, drivers of public buses could not sensibly be expected to wait for all boarding passengers to take their seats – wherever they may choose to sit – before they could properly drive the bus away from the stop.
If they did wait for all passengers to get to a seat before driving off, no one would get anywhere in a reasonable time.
It was true to say that bus drivers and companies had to take steps to ensure the reasonable safety of their passengers but that duty was satisfied by the provision within buses of appropriate safety supports.
The driver in Mrs Fletcher’s case was well entitled to drive away from the bus stop as he did: gently and at a reasonable speed.
So When Can You Claim Successfully?
That was the end of Mrs Fletcher’s claim but the Court also made some observations about other situations where there might be a higher duty on the driver.
In the Court’s view, different considerations might apply if the boarding passenger was elderly or infirm or carrying a lot of luggage or was very young.
In other words, if the passenger in question seemed to be at some particular risk of accident then special consideration may need to be given by the driver.
Another case – a more elderly injured person – another fail
In a later case, where the claim of 72-year-old Mr Glarvey against Arriva Northwest Ltd failed, the court explained that there was no duty on the bus driver to examine each passenger minutely, but simply to be aware, for example, of walking sticks, disabilities or babies being carried.
As Mr Glarvey had not seemed in any way “infirm”, the bus driver did not have to wait for him to sit down before moving off from the bus stop. 63-year-old Mrs Phillips-Turner’s claim against Reading Transport Ltd failed for similar reasons.
An example of a successful claim
One claim that did succeed was that of a 3-year-old boy in the case of W (A Child) v First South Yorkshire Ltd.
W had been waiting at the bus stop in a pushchair.
After boarding the bus with help from his mother, he began to make his way down to the back of the bus while his mother put the pushchair in the luggage rack. The mother’s friend paid the three fares.
The bus driver pulled away from the bus stop at a time when W, his mother and her friend were still making their way down the aisle.
The movement of the bus caused W to fall and bang his head.
The court took the view that W fitted into the group of passengers – the elderly, infirm, encumbered and vulnerable – for whom different considerations applied when the bus driver was deciding whether he should endanger his newly-boarded passengers by driving away from the bus stop before they had sat down.
The bus driver should have waited for W to sit down.
W’s claim was successful.
Practical Steps You Can Take To Safeguard Yourself Getting onto a Bus
If you look “vulnerable”, as explained above, the bus driver should wait for you to sit down before driving off.
If you are injured because the bus moves off before you are seated, you may well have a good claim against the bus company.
On the other hand, if you are not in the protected category of vulnerable passengers then you just have to do your best to get to your seat as quickly as possible, making use of the safety supports forming part of the structure of the bus.
If the movement of the bus before you get to a seat causes you fall and suffer injury – too bad.
What if you are in some way vulnerable but that is not immediately obvious?
Bus drivers are entitled to judge you by your appearance unless you correct them.
If, say, you have a prosthetic limb or a balance problem or some other hidden infirmity, the best thing to do is tell the bus driver as you get onto the bus – preferably, loudly so that other passengers hear you say it too – and specifically request that you be allowed to sit down before the bus moves off.
That way you minimise your risk of having an accident in the first place and, if you do have an accident, maximise your chances of being able to claim for any injury you suffer.
What About Bus Accidents Involving Other Vehicles?
Bear in mind that if the bus on which you are a passenger is involved in an accident with another vehicle, you will almost certainly have grounds for a claim against someone, whether it is the bus driver or another driver.
See, for example, the case of Steadman –v- London United Busways.
It is possible that Mrs Fletcher might have been able to make a successful claim against the driver that caused the bus driver to have to carry out his emergency stop.
If that other driver could not be identified, the claim could be made through the Untraced Drivers’ Agreement operated by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.
How we can help you
If you have had an accident on or involving a bus and suffered injury, contact us for a chat – all initial enquiries are free of charge and without obligation.
I (Peter Brash) can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01343 564813 or complete and send us your free claim enquiry form by clicking HERE.