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Liability Question: Bus Passenger fell

by Jo Thorne
(Palo Alto, CA, USA)

Claimant was going through a 3 day medical procedure at local hospital.

There is a free, local bus owned by my employer (a University) which the claimant uses.

The claimant was either standing or rising from her seat before the driver had stopped the bus. When the driver turned a corner, the claimant lost her balance and fell. Because the claimant stood before the bus stopped we see no liability on the part of the driver for the claimant's fall and injury.

Please advise if we can send a denial letter or offer the claimant her out-of-pocket costs in settlement.

JoAnne Thorne
Admin., Office of Risk Management


Hello JoAnne,

I believe you need to have either your insurance company involved or an attorney. There are several issues here, and those issues make it virtually impossible to give you an accurate answer.

Are you a public or a private university? This has an impact. An are you self insured, meaning you are the claims adjuster assessing the loss?

Most insurance policies for buses (commercial insurance) do allow for recovery of medical bills only, regardless of fault. Whether your passenger was at fault or the driver would be irrelevant to this coverage, therefore, there might be some coverage there.

This clauses have one important purpose. To allow payment for medical coverage and hopefully defuse a pain and suffering claim against you. It does not happen often, but in many cases, claimants only look for their medical expenses.

Regarding liability:

California has specific statutes on how to determine fault. You need to review those carefully.

I believe there could be liability on the university. When you drive a passenger, you are impliedly assuring to take the passenger safe from point A to point B. If the passenger falls, because they were neither standing nor sitting, it can be argue that the ultimate responsibility is on the driver to ensure that all passengers are properly seated.

It can also be argued that the bus was not properly equipped with handles, seat belts, etc to avoid this type of scenario.

In addition, there can also be a dispute regarding your basic facts. Depending on how much evidence you gathered, there could be a dispute that this passenger was properly seated and it was the turn that made him/her fall. This factual dispute is probably an attack that a lawyer would take against you.

The other point regarding your passenger's medical history is that he/she might be an eggshell plaintiff, which would require investigation regarding all related medical records.

Again, there are many issues here that probably need to be investigated and resolved before a letter of denial goes out.

Good Luck

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