Many people living with disabilities rely on transportation services – both public and private – to get where they’re going. These entities have a duty to ensure their vehicles, equipment, procedures and drivers act in a manner that will preserve the safety of their patrons.
Our West Palm Beach injury lawyers note this was unfortunately not the case in MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier. The case was recently weighed by justices of the Kentucky Supreme Court, though the theories of negligence are the same as would be applied here in Florida. In this case, according to court records, the rider of the bus, who used a wheelchair, boarded the bus to head home on a freezing cold day in December 2006. The driver reached the rider’s stop at around 5 p.m., and engaged the wheelchair lift so the rider could disembark.
However, steel plates that typically shift to bridge the gap between the bus and the floor of the lift were misaligned. So instead of facilitating the rider’s exit, plates obstructed it. The rider couldn’t see this, however, and was counting on cues from the driver to safely navigate her way off the bus. However, the driver didn’t warn the rider of the obstruction. As the rider attempted to roll onto the lift, the wheelchair struck the plate and tipped over.
She was stuck midair, suspended by the safety strap on her chair. The driver’s reaction was to release the safety strap, which caused the rider to fall onto the ground so hard that both of her femurs were broken.
The driver didn’t call 911. She immediately contacted supervisors, as she’d been trained to do. The supervisors responded within about 20 minutes, at which time emergency services were contacted for the first time. They were not told, however, of the severity of the injuries, so it was another 20 minutes until they arrived. Meanwhile, the woman was left on the ground, covered with only a thin blanket in the freezing temperatures.
Instead of tending to her, evidence showed the company’s representatives were more concerned about working to limit their own liability – taking pictures of the scene and sequestering the driver from questioning. Police were never called. Despite company policy to test a driver for alcohol within two hours of an incident, it was nearly three before this driver was tested (no alcohol was detected).
As a result of the ordeal, the rider remained totally immobile for almost a year, first in a hospital and later in a long-term care facility. She became totally dependent on others for basic needs.
The rider sued the company for vicarious liability for the injuries she sustained. At trial, evidence was presented that showed the driver had not followed protocol for safe unloading of passengers. Additionally, the supervisors who arrived on scene did not follow written safety policies.
There was also evidence, later challenged by the bus company, that the driver was an alcoholic who resided in a rehab facility at the time she was hired.
Before trial, the court denied the plaintiff the right to pursue punitive damages, though she would be entitled to compensatory damages.
A jury found the company vicariously liable for employee’s actions, as well as directly liable for negligence in hiring and training. The company was ordered to pay $4.2 million in damages.
Upon appeal, the company asserted the court had improperly allowed evidence of the driver’s history with alcohol. The rider, meanwhile, appealed her denial of punitive damages.
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling allowing evidence of the driver’s alcoholism, but reversed the ruling denying punitive damages to the plaintiff. The state supreme court affirmed.
The case will go back to trial to determine how much more should be awarded to the plaintiff.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
MV Transp., Inc. v. Allgeier, June 19, 2014, Kentucky Supreme Court
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Bradford v. Jai Med. Sys. – Theory of Apparent Agency Challenged, June 23, 2014, Boca Raton Injury Lawyer Blog