Woman’s negligence claim against Dublin Bus dismissed by the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal has dismissed a claim brought by a woman who fell down the stairs of a double decker operated by Dublin Bus.
Delivering the finding of the three-judge Court, Mr Justice Michael Peart found that the woman was “the author of her own misfortune” by letting go of the handrail before she reached the top of the stairs, and that it was “utterly unreasonable and unrealistic” to expect bus drivers to ensure all passengers are secure before moving off.
In the incident in 2008, Ms Margaret McGarr suffered a “nasty injury” after falling backwards down the stairs of a Dublin Bus shortly after paying her fare and before she had reached the top of the internal stairs.
Ms McGarr alleged that the bus driver drove his bus negligently as it moved off from the stop where she had got on, claiming that as she approached the top of the stairs “there was a sudden, very sudden, jerk of the bus”, which caused her to fall backwards and all the way down to the bottom of the stairs.
Another passenger who was seated downstairs on the same bus gave evidence Ms McGarr’s statement, however CCTV footage of the incident taken by cameras situated within the bus showed that Ms McGarr had let go of the handrail moments before the bus moved off, and it was therefore accepted that a “cruel misfortune of timing meant therefore that at the precise moment when the bus moved away from the stop and into the traffic, she was holding neither hand rail and was therefore completely unsupported at the top of the stairs”.
In the circumstances, the trial judge found that Ms McGarr had not made out a case in negligence against Dublin Bus, and dismissed her claim.
Court of Appeal
Mr Justice Michael Peart stated that Ms McGarr’s appeal raised an important question as to the extent of Dublin Bus’s duty of care to passengers whom it carries on a double decker bus. The question for the Court was whether it could be fair and reasonable that the company’s general duty of care towards its passengers should extend to the driver having to satisfy himself or herself that any passengers who have got on are actually seated, and in particular perhaps those who may have entered the stairwell to gain the upper deck, before the bus moves away from a stop?
In the Court of Appeal, Ms McGarr suggested that she should be found to have been guilty of some contributory negligence by having let go of the rail at the critical moment as she turned left at the top of the stairs (as per Shelley-Morris v Bus Atha Cliath 1 IR 232) but that the trial judge erred in not primary finding of negligence against Dublin Bus.
Before the question of any contributory negligence on the part of Ms McGarr arises, Dublin Bus must first be found to have been negligent thereby causing Ms McGarr’s injury.
The crux of this appeal is whether Dublin Bus’s driver fell short of what is reasonably required of him in order to discharge the duty of care owed by Dublin Bus to Ms McGarr. That duty of care is one which requires it to take reasonable care in all the circumstances
Justice Peart was satisfied that the trial judge found, as a matter of fact, that where there was sudden movement when the bus moved off, it was not violent movement.
Notwithstanding this finding, Ms McGarr urged that the driver was obliged under the Driver’s Safety Handbook, to have ensured that Ms McGarr was in some way secure before he drive away. Justice Peart stated that this standard of care was too high, that it was unreasonable, and “completely ignored the realities of modern day bus travel”.
He added that it was “utterly unreasonable and unrealistic” to expect that before moving away from the stop on each of the many occasions that this happens throughout the day, the driver must make sure that not only have all the passengers who have just got onto the bus secured themselves in some way, but also presumably that existing passengers are still in their seats or otherwise secure by holding a rail.
Justice Peart concluded that the driver did nothing he was obliged by his duty of care not to do, and that Ms McGarr “on the other hand failed to keep hold of even one of the hand rails as she mounted the final three steps of these stairs”.
Ms McGarr’s actions alone were what caused her to lose balance when the bus moved off, and there was no breach of the duty of care owed to her by Dublin Bus.