On-Board Slips and Falls

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Except when standees are knocked off their feet and thrown forward when a transit vehicle (or other vehicle type which should not have, and is not configured to accommodate, standees) is forced to stop short for safety reasons (notwithstanding a catastrophic accident) — like avoiding a fellow vehicle or pedestrian cutting or walking in front of it — most slips and falls on board occur when vehicles pull out before their passengers reach “a point of seating or securement.” This extremely common incident scenario is almost always the result of a schedule that is too tight, or if not, the driver falling behind schedule and eliminating a variety of safety procedures in order to catch up.

Another factor that contributes to these incidents is the driver’s failure to fixate on his or her interior, rearview mirror and “track” each boarding passenger’s movement to a seat (or on a transit bus, to either a seat or a stanchion or hand-grip.

Certain types of conditions, such as wet flooring, also contribute to the frequency of this type of incident, and when they occur, defendants often naively think they can blame the incident on the weather. (This is why the plaintiff’s counsel needs an expert qualified in operations, and familiar with the components of the schedule — running times versus cycle time, and recovery time.) Otherwise, certain types of passengers are also more vulnerable to this type of incident — among them, elderly and disabled passengers, and those who are obese (and whose balance is compromised as a result). Once in a blue moon, such falls can be blamed on the passenger’s shoes (i.e., high heels or brand-new leather-soled men’s shoes) — although I have never seen this defense work effectively.

Finally, in rare states, blaming the defendant for an incident of this type is close to impossible. For example, in New York, an engineer who had outfitted the bus with thermocouples to measure its acceleration must have to have been on board when the incident occurred, and must be able to testify that the rate of acceleration was “excessive” — a scenario not only impossible to present, but based on a mathematical notion of extraordinary ignorance: A vehicle’s moment of greatest acceleration is the point where its speed increases from nothing (i.e., the vehicle is standing still) to something — or as mathematicians would state it, Y/X = infinity. Elsewhere, I try to ride the route, under ideal if not pristine conditions (i.e., off-peak period, no traffic, no detours, no wheelchair users aboard, perfect weather) to establish that the schedule was too tight. Many attorneys do not like to spend resources on such research. But it pays off exponentially: Not only is there no other way to prove the incident was anyone’s fault but the driver (and jurors are sympathetic to errors and omissions made by the individual at the bottom of the management hierarchy), but it can lead to the filing of injunctive relief: Requesting that the judge order the defendant to either add more vehicles to the route (or the entire system, if the plaintiff uses it) or to “loosen up the schedules” — a crisis to extraordinarily-costly complementary paratransit services, since they are an “unfunded mandate” as a requirement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and “loosening up the schedules” of most such systems computerized scheduling software generally means increasing the travel speed “algorithm” — a change that would effectively loosen up the schedule for every trip provided. Before chancing a judge’s granting of such a motion, most defendants will settle for the moon in return for the plaintiff removing this injunction from the settlement table.

For more on this issue, read “On-Board Slips and Falls” on Safety Compromises.


on board slip and fall stairwell view from the top