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Liability for Not Stopping the Bus?

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While riding on a NJ Transit bus, Anasia Maison alleged that her fellow passengers became increasingly unruly with her and then injured her by throwing a glass object at her face. In addition to suing the passenger who threw the object, Maison alleged that NJ Transit had a duty to maintain security on the bus, keep her safe and free from harm and take reasonable steps to prevent the incident and her injuries from occurring. NJ Transit responded that it was not liable to Maison based on the immunity provisions of the NJ Tort Claims Act (the “TCA”).

After conflicting decisions by two lower court judges, the Appellate Division concluded that NJ Transit was not entitled to be dismissed from the suit with prejudice. The court agreed with NJ Transit that plaintiff’s claim of a duty to maintain security on the bus was barred by the police protection provision of the TCA and must be dismissed. The court also noted that plaintiff’s allegations of a duty to keep her safe and free from harm and take reasonable steps to prevent the incident from occurring also may be barred by the TCA.

However, plaintiff argued on appeal that the bus driver could have taken other steps to end the harassment, such as asking the passengers to stop, calling the police and/or stopping the bus. While the court was skeptical about the validity of the first two steps in light of the police protection immunity, it seem more interested in the third, that is, stopping the bus might have allowed plaintiff to escape or obtain assistance. Because these steps were not alleged in plaintiff’s complaint, the appellate court ruled that plaintiff could file an amended complaint against NJ Transit alleging those steps, as well as the additional allegation that NJ Transit is liable as a common carrier.

As the Appellate Division declined to resolve plaintiff’s new allegations, we will have to await further rulings in this case to see if NJ Transit ultimately bears liability for Maison’s injuries.

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