Bus passenger pinball? Court rules buses have no duty to protect wheelchair-bound passengers
This may be my winner for worst decision of the year for 2012. In Seldon v. Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), the Michigan Court Appeals ruled that SMART buses in Detroit have no obligation to secure wheelchair passengers, or even to inform these passengers of safety features so they can protect themselves.
The Court identified two incredibly outrageous reasons for why wheelchair-bound passengers like Ruby Seldon cannot sue SMART bus for injuries suffered as SMART bus passengers:
- SMART bus has “no duty to secure [wheelchair passengers] using a personal restraint such as a seat belt or shoulder harness …”
- SMART bus has “no legal duty to advise [wheelchair passengers] of the availability of a shoulder restraint [or shoulder harness] or [seat] belt.”
Accordingly, under the two-judge majority opinion in Seldon, when a SMART bus slams on the brakes, thereby causing a wheelchair-bound passenger to be “ejected from her wheelchair” and “sustain bilateral ankle fractures,” which is what occurred in Ruby Seldon’s case, the injured wheelchair passenger can forget about suing to hold a SMART bus and its driver accountable for negligence.
The dissenting judge in Seldon concluded that, at a minimum, SMART bus “owed [wheelchair-bound passengers such as Ms. Seldon] a duty to advise … of the availability of a seatbelt [and/or shoulder restraint] …”
She pointed out:
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s interpretation of federal regulations “exhorts the public transportation authority’s personnel to ‘ensure that a passenger with a disability is able to take advantage of the accessibility and safety features on vehicles.’ This arguably includes apprising the passenger of the existence of the accessibility features, as a passenger cannot take advantage of a feature of which she is unaware.”
SMART bus tactics for avoiding accident liability
– Steven Gursten is recognized as one of the top bus accident lawyers in the country. He is head of Michigan Auto Law and also a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, where he works on serious bus accident cases from around the country. Steve is past president of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Truck Accident Litigation Group, and is a member for the AAJ Bus Accident Litigation Group. He was named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for his work to promote national truck and bus safety.
Michigan Auto Law exclusively handles car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state of Michigan. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Sterling Heights, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit to better serve you. Call (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our bus accident lawyers.