Negligent Bus Discharge and Pick Ups

I fell and injured myself when I was trying to enter a bus. The bus driver did not pull up to the curb where the bus stop was located. Instead, he stopped in the lane of travel near the bus stop, approximately five to ten feet from the curb. When I left the curb to walk to the bus stop, I tripped and fell in a street pothole between the curb and the bus door. Can I sue the bus for my injuries?

Unfortunately, the best answer you can get at this point is probably. The law in this area is developed only in the Common Law. Common law is not a statute passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. The Common Law regarding buses in New York City has developed over decades with judicial decisions decided by the Supreme Court and the Appellate Courts. As explained in prior blogs, there is a legal principle of stare decisis which states that similar cases should yield similar results. This means each case is a little different and each case requires research to find a similar case.

First, there is a long line of cases which state that bus drivers have a duty to drop off and pick up passengers in a safe place. The next question would be if the bus driver discharged his duty by stopping so far away from the curb near a street pothole? The closest case to your facts is found in Defay v City of New York, et al, 174 AD3d 406, 101 NYS3d 603 (1st Dept. 2019). In that case, a gentleman fell in a Manhattan street pothole while walking from the bus stop curb to the bus. The pothole was in the pedestrian’s path walking from the curb to board the bus, approximately seven or eight feet away. This seems similar to your case. But ultimately it would be up to a jury to decide whether the bus driver was acting “reasonably” under the circumstances.

The careful attorney would not stop by suing the New York City Transit Authority. Because the City of New York, not the New York City Transit Authority, has the duty to maintain bus stops, streets, sidewalks and curbs. Therefore, the real issue might be whether the pedestrian entering the bus took the most direct route from the curb to the bus. The New York City Transit Authority may argue that there was no causal relationship between the street pothole and the place where the bus stopped. The Transit Authority may argue that the pedestrian did not take the most direct route from the curb to the bus door. Thus, The Transit Authority could argue that there was no causal relationship between the place where the bus driver stopped to pick up the pedestrian and the bus stop because the pothole was not in the most direct route.

So that is why the answer to the question is that you probably do have a claim against the bus; but your careful attorney will also sue the City of New York as well.

Municipal Claims in Parks

I was injured while watching my daughter’s softball game. A foul ball struck me and I needed to be hospitalized. Can I make a claim against the City?

Possibly. Municipal claims are always complicated with multiple levels of substantive rules and procedural rules that make it difficult to bring any case. There are different substantive rules for the location of an accident, whether it occurred on a street, sidewalk, public way or park. There are also complicated procedural rules for municipal claims. All claims must be made in writing within 90 days after the accident to the Comptroller or the Corporation Counsel on an approved form. Claimants must make themselves available for a municipal hearing (something like a deposition) and a physical examination. Then, a summons and complaint must be filed within one year and ninety days after the accident. (Some agencies have different requirements and shorter statute of limitations.)

In the case of your daughter’s softball game, it required some legal research, but it appears that you might have a case. Legal precedents are cases already decided by Courts. Courts write and publish written decisions to guide judges. Courts are obligated to decide cases which have similar facts to have a similar outcome. The legal term for this principal is called Stare Decisis. The difficulty was trying to find a decided case with similar facts to your case.

Your case depends upon where you were standing or sitting when the ball hit you. As it turns out, there was a court case with similar facts to your case. The municipality has a duty to maintain the screening in a park behind home plate. If you were behind home plate and there was no screening or the screening was poorly maintained (with holes so that the softball could pass through and strike fans), then you could have a municipal claim. See Starke v Smithtown, 155 AD2d 526 (2d Dept. 1989). If you were standing or sitting in foul territory down the first or third base lines, then the municipality has no obligation to protect fans.

Subway Crime

I was injured during an incident on the subway. I was attacked by several youths. There was a conductor on the subway but he did nothing to stop the attack on myself or the other passengers. Do I have a claim against the City?

Generally speaking, the City of New York and the New York City Police Department do not guarantee the safety of its citizens from crime. The argument against municipal liability boils down to economics. The City cannot afford to hire and deploy police to protect everyone, everywhere, at all times. Many times, the police can only offer a deterrent to crime. That deterrent is that the police will investigate crimes after they are committed and potentially arrest and offer cases to the District Attorney to prosecute alleged criminals. Every time a crime is committed by a perpetrator, that perpetrator may be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for the crime. It is that possibility of incarceration that acts as a deterrent to potential criminals.

In order for the City to be responsible for the damages to a crime victim, there must be a “special relationship” established between the crime victim and police officer on the scene. If a police officer sees a crime in progress and has started to assist the victim, then if the police officer fails to assist or fails to request back up, the victim could bring a case against the City. There are many variations of these facts, and each slight variation can bring a different result.

Your specific case may be one the few types of cases which could find the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) responsible for the actions of the criminals that attacked you. Public Authorities Law § 1212(3) authorizes a private recovery against the NYCTA for the negligent operation of the subway system. You stated that a conductor was on the subway but did nothing to stop the attack on you (and other passengers). Although that conductor was not obligated to personally intervene (like a superhero in some Marvel comics movie), but if the subway employee witnessed the attack, but did not summon help, even though summoning that help would not put the conductor at risk, the MTA could be responsible for your damages.

The Good Samaritan Claim

I was injured during a fight involving multiple people. A policeman was getting beaten, so I stepped in to help him to prevent him from getting seriously injured. Can I make a claim for my injuries?

You not only have an assault claim against the people who hurt you, you may be also able to sue the City of New York for your damages as well. After filing a notice of claim (and possibly attending a municipal hearing and physical exam), you can file a lawsuit as a plaintiff in Supreme Court in New York for the damages you sustained. General Municipal Law § 71-a imposes absolute liability on the City for your injuries while aiding a police officer at the officer’s direction in making an arrest. For this type of claim there are two requirements: (1) the police office must lawfully command the injured plaintiff in securing the arrest and (2) the plaintiff’s injuries arose out of assisting the police officer.

From the description that you gave, it does not seem likely that you were given an explicit command from the police officer that was getting “beaten.” But, as long as the place officer indicated in some way that he needed assistance, then the City would be responsible for your damages.

Furthermore, “absolute liability” means the City would have no defense for this type of claim. The City would have to pay your damages. The only defense the City could mount would be to argue that the police officer never gave you a command to assist in the arrest of the person beating the police officer.

As a secondary point, there is no type of insurance that would cover the bad actors who inflicted your injuries. If you sue the people who assaulted you, you would have to collect any judgment against those people individually. You may not be able to collect any money.

Accidents on Undeveloped Land

I was injured when I was driving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) upstate. Can I bring a claim for my injuries?

You probably will not a claim for your injuries. Although, as explained later, there may be certain circumstances in which you can bring a claim, using ATVs generally exclude you from any claim against the landowner.

Although all landowners have the common law duty to all people on their land of “reasonable care.” (As mentioned in some of the prior blogs, a common law duty is imposed by Courts on certain people based on many Courts’ decisions over decades. These decisions over time become duties imposed on people subject to the Court’s jurisdiction.) The exception to the common law duties imposed by Courts can be found in statues enacted by the legislature and governor.

In this case, a private land owner has no obligation to keep a premises safe when the person on the land is engaging in certain recreational activities. General Obligations Law § 9-103. So if a person is injured on property while hunting, fishing, canoeing, trapping, hiking, boating, canoeing, horseback riding, bicycle riding, hang gliding, snowmobile operation and ATV riding, then the owner of the property has no obligation to make the land safe for any of these purposes. Thus, the property owner has no obligation to clear paths (and possible pave them) so an individual can safely ride an ATV.

There are exceptions to this rule. One exception would be if the landowner charged for people to ride ATVs on the land. But your question did not mention any fee was paid for permission to ride an ATV on the land. A second exception would be for some willful or malicious condition. Again, the question did not mention any concealed malicious trap set on the land to disrupt the ATV rider and cause injuries. It was just typical wooded upstate property.

This case becomes even more complicated if the accident occurred on New York State land. If the State of New York is a possible defendant, all claims must be brought in the Court of Claims (a separate Court different than the Supreme Court, the Court of Claims handles only cases against the State of New York). There are also short statute of limitations to bring claims against the State. All claims against the State must present a “Claim for Damages” followed by a filing of the lawsuit in the Court of Claims. The State also has certain defenses that an ordinary citizen or company does not have.