Jerk and Jolt on a Bus

At least once a week, we get a call from a passenger on a bus who says they suffered an injury as the result of sudden acceleration while on a bus. We listen to everyone who calls our office looking for help. But we will not accept these cases.

A Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reminds us this week how impossible difficult these claims are in Martin v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Plaintiff, in this case, got on a bus in Philadelphia. The only standing passenger, Plaintiff began walking down the aisle when the bus suddenly accelerated and then stopped, causing her to fall before she got to the center doors.

Plaintiff received treatment at a hospital emergency room for head, neck, and back injuries. Plaintiff’s head and neck injuries were not a big deal, but the back injuries from the accident did not go away.

Plaintiff won at arbitration (and a lot of procedural things happened that are not important to us). On appeal, the question was whether Plaintiff could recover under Pennsylvania’s jerk and jolt doctrine. Under this law, a bus passenger must establish that the jerk or jolt was so unusual or extraordinary as to be beyond a passenger’s reasonable anticipation, or that the jerk or jolt had an extraordinarily disturbing effect on other passengers. The court found that Plaintiff’s testimony, that she fell because the bus abruptly accelerated and then unexpectedly stopped, was not enough to get the case to a jury.

Maryland has similar law:

When a seated passenger is injured by being hurled from his seat against the seat in front of him, it may be inferred that a sudden stop was due to negligence of the operator, in the absence of other circumstances, not including such negligence, which necessitated the stop. Such an inference must be drawn from facts, not from adjectives or other words used by witnesses to characterize the movement, such as, “terrific jolt,” “very terrible, very severe jerk or jolt,” or “unusually hard jerk.”

You can find the full opinion here.

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