We have all experienced the sudden movement of a train or bus upon boarding and while wending our way to a seat. As we lurch, we reach out to grab the closest pole or overhead straps to steady ourselves and to prevent our being tossed to the floor or into the lap of the closest seated passenger.

As we attempt to steady ourselves and the vehicle’s acceleration diminishes, often the operator will be forced by circumstances to brake suddenly. And, back flies the passenger from whence he or she just came! In the process it is not surprising that injuries occur. The question for the Court in litigation involving such injuries is to what extent can the common carrier (the train or bus company) be liable for such injuries?

A rule has developed, called the “jerk-and-jolt” doctrine under which the operator of the vehicle can be liable for sudden starts and stops of a common carrier only if he or she is negligent in the process of accelerating and then suddenly stopping.

In a recent Philadelphia lawsuit, George Norman Green v. SEPTA, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that SEPTA was not liable for the alleged injuries resulting from a jerk-and-jolt incident because Mr. Green failed to introduce sufficient evidence that the operator of the bus acted in a negligent manner. It was not enough to present evidence of a sudden acceleration quickly followed by a sudden stop.

The Court found that the plaintiff failed to present any “evidence of an unusual or unanticipated movement of the bus supporting a presumption or inference of negligence by the bus driver.” The fact that the other passengers “collectively let out an audible sigh when the bus came to a stop” was insufficient evidence of negligence. Nor would the Court permit an inference of negligence from the fact that the plaintiff was seriously injured.

Brace yourself (and hold onto your hat)!
— Ken Butera

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