Anyone who operates a motor vehicle needs to exercise care to ensure he or she does not strike and injure—or possibly kill—a pedestrian. This is especially true for bus drivers, as an accident endangers not only the pedestrian but possibly dozens of passengers. So, when a bus accident is caused by a driver's negligence, it is important to hold the owners and operators of the vehicle accountable.
Jury Allowed to “Infer” Negligence from DNA, Expert Reconstruction
Recently a divided panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, upheld a Bronx jury's award to the family of a woman found dead underneath a New York City bus. On the day in question, the New York City Fire Department responded to a report of a pedestrian accident on a service road near the Henry Hudson Parkway. Emergency units responded and found fresh tire marks leading to the victim's body, which was approximately 135 feet from a bus stop. DNA evidence taken from the body was later matched to blood and body tissue samples found on the undercarriage of a bus that serviced that same stop.
The victim's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) as owner of the bus. The family argued that the bus driver's negligence had to be the cause of the victim's death. The driver testified that he “heard nothing and did not feel any impact.” Nor did any of the passengers on the bus at the time recall “seeing, hearing or feeling anything” near the bus stop where the victim was found.
The family presented expert testimony from an accident reconstruction specialist. The expert determined, based on his review of the accident scene, that the victim's body had been crushed “at such an angle that the bus driver, pulling out of the bus stop, should have, with the proper use of his senses” seen her before it was too late.” Based on this testimony and other evidence, the jury ruled in favor of the family on its wrongful death claim and awarded a total of $950,000 in damages.
The NYCTA appealed. The First Department affirmed the verdict, although not without dissent among the five-judge panel. Two judges argued in favor of overturning the jury's verdict and dismissing the case. The dissent argued there was “no evidence to controvert” the bus driver's testimony that he never saw the victim, and that the evidence suggested a “more plausible” scenario where the victim was running to catch the bus as it was pulling away from the stop and tripped. In any case, the dissent said there was insufficient evidence to support holding the driver responsible. The majority disagreed, noting the jury was permitted to infer the driver's negligence from the DNA evidence and the expert's reconstruction of the accident.