In 2013, a New York woman aboard a New Jersey Transit bus was accosted by four other passengers. The altercation ended when one of the passengers threw a bottle at the woman. They then got off the bus. The thrown bottle permanently scarred the woman and required her to get 22 stitches.
The woman sued New Jersey transit, alleging that the bus driver was negligent. The accusation stems from the the driver’s failure to stop the bus and kick off the unruly passengers. The driver also did not call the police when it became apparent that the passengers were a danger to others.
The woman was recently awarded $1.8 million for her personal injuries by a jury, who found NJ Transit 100 percent liable for the incident.
Why Was This Incident NJ Transit’s Fault?
NJ Transit has a duty of care to passengers on its buses to provide a safe environment and to address hazards in that environment in a reasonable and timely manner. If NJ Transit breaches this duty of care and injury is the result, then the victim can collect damages for pain and suffering, medical bills, lost wages and more. In failing to remove the hazard from the bus (the unruly passengers) and in failing to call 911, NJ Transit breached its duty of care and that breach led to one of its passengers suffering injury. The victim then had to deal with medical expenses, the pain and suffering related to the stitches and permanent disfigurement in the form of scarring. As such, she can collect damages.
But is it really the company’s fault that the driver failed to kick the unruly passengers off the bus or call 911? Why shouldn’t the driver be the one to take the blame? The answer to this question lies in the concept of “respondeat superior,” a Latin phrase meaning “let the master answer.” Respondeat superior is a doctrine of vicarious liability, allowing victims of injury to sue the employer of a person whose negligence lead to an injury, as long as that person is acting within the scope of his or her employment when the injury occurs. Because the bus driver was doing his job when the injury occurred, his employer, NJ Transit, was found responsible for the injury.