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I fell On The Bus When The Driver Swerved – Can I Sue? Bus Accidents and the “Jerk And Jolt Doctrine” in Philadelphia – Just What Is It?

Have you ever been injured while riding in a bus? Or perhaps you know someone injured in a bus accident? Ever ride on a bus and the driver slams his/her brakes throwing you out of your seat and slamming you to the ground? Imagine falling, violently injuring yourself and then being told that you can’t sue for personal injuries unless you can demonstrate that the jolt and jerk was “unusual” for a bus and not something a passenger could have reasonably anticipated.

Well that’s what happened to a grandmother who was injured while riding in a SEPTA bus in Philadelphia. The bus allegedly swerved to avoid a pedestrian crossing in the street. The plaintiff was sitting on the aisle seat, her granddaughter by her side when the bus all of a sudden jerked to the left than quickly to the right, accelerating, and causing the grandmother to fall to the ground. As established by her orthopedist, the fall caused plaintiff to tear her rotator cuff and suffer spinal injuries.

Relying on the “jerk and jolt” doctrine (established in the 1940 case of Staller v. Philadelphia Rapid Transit) the Commonwealth Court granted defendant SEPTA’s motion for summary judgment. The Court held that the plaintiff could not meet the elements of the “jerk and jolt” doctrine, which requires a plaintiff to show that the movement of the car was “so unusual and extraordinary as to be beyond a passenger’s reasonable anticipation”. Typically this can be established through evidence that the jerk or swerve had an extraordinary disturbing effect on another passenger, resulted in an accident or that it was of such an unusual character that a reasonable passenger would not have expected or anticipated it occurring.

Because no other passenger was injured, including no harm to plaintiff’s 2-year old granddaughter and no other passenger fell to the ground, the plaintiff could not proceed under the first the prong of the doctrine leaving her to establish that the swerve was of an unusual jolt and jerk character. Plaintiff argued that because she was seated and the swerve unseated her causing her to fall to the ground was enough to at least create a question of fact for the jury. The Court disagreed stating that in “seated passenger” cases, the plaintiff still had to show that at least one other “seated passenger” was affected by the jerk. Although the Court appeared to acknowledge the severity of plaintiff’s injuries, the Court held that damage alone couldn’t be determinative of SEPTA’s liability.

If you are injured in a bus accident, be sure to talk with an experienced accident attorney who will investigate your claim to the fullest extent and get you the recovery you deserve. Contact the lawyers at The Pagano Law Firm for a free consultation.

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