Reviewing the Liability of Bus Drivers

Reviewing the Liability of Bus Drivers

Falls on a city bus are common and this recent decision reviews the law as it pertains to the liability of a bus driver.

Dahl v. South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority, 2017 BCSC 629


[29]         The first issue that must be decided is whether the plaintiff’s fall was due to any negligence on the part of the bus driver, Mr. Anderson.

[30]         The test is as follows: whether Mr. Anderson breached the standard of care expected of a reasonable and prudent bus driver.

The law

[31]         The liability of bus drivers and bus companies was dealt with recently by our Court of Appeal in Benavides v. Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, 2017 BCCA 15. The Court set out the guiding principles as follows:

[17] I draw from this review of the law the following principles:

  • The mere fact that a passenger is injured while riding on a public carrier does not establish a prima facie case of negligence.
  • The plaintiff bears the burden of proving on a balance of probabilities that the defendant breached the standard of care owed to the plaintiff.
  • Once the plaintiff establishes a prima facie case of negligence, in practical terms the burden shifts to the defendant to answer the case against him and show that he was not negligent.

[32]         In Brinacomb v. B.C. Transit et al, 2000 BCSC 331 this Court dealt with a fact pattern almost identical to the case at bar. In that case the plaintiff boarded the bus and was walking toward the back when the bus pulled away from the curb and the plaintiff fell. Like Ms. Dahl, Ms. Brinacomb had passed by courtesy seats at the front of the bus, several vertical and horizontal stanchions and hand hold straps, and while able to use them, chose not to.

[33]         The issue in Brinacomb was whether the driver was negligent in leaving the curb before ensuring that the plaintiff was either seated or had a hold of a safety device.

[34]         The court’s review of decisions dealing with similar fact patterns is pertinent:

[42] Ms. Brinacomb’s counsel submits that Mr. Swinney was negligent in setting the bus in motion before Ms. Brinacomb had seated herself, but several British Columbia authorities establish that the fact that a bus driver starts up before all passengers are seated is not in itself a breach of the required standard of care, unless it is apparent to the driver that the passenger is disabled, or heavily burdened. Fisher v. British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, unreported, Taylor, J., Vancouver Registry No. B781146, February 19, 1980; Sawatsky v. Romanchuk & B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, unreported, Berger, J., Vancouver Registry No. C771580, September 14, 1979; Calderwood v. B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, unreported, Macfarlane, J., Vancouver Registry No. 8509/71, May 13, 1974; and Lawrie v. B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, Toy, J., Vancouver Registry No. 32708/78, May 31, 1976.

[43] In Rehemtulla v. B.C. Transit, unreported, Edwards, J., Vancouver Registry No. B936381, November 16, 1995, the plaintiff alleged that the driver was negligent in not waiting for her to reach the seat of her choice before pulling out into traffic. The trial judge found that the plaintiff fell as the bus driver shifted the bus from first to second gear, which typically causes the bus to lurch, but was, the trial judge found, a normal movement of the bus. Justice Edwards concluded that it is not negligent for a driver to start the bus before a passenger is seated, and that there was nothing abnormal about his driving, and that he was therefore unable to find negligence. His decision was upheld on appeal, unreported, Docket CA021233, October 15, 1997.

[44] A similar conclusion had been reached in Mauro v. Romanica, [1988] 1 W.W.R. 684 (Man. Q.B.). In that case, the plaintiff, a sixty-three year old woman, boarded the bus on a rainy day. Before she was seated, the driver pulled out into traffic at a slow speed and the plaintiff, who was not holding onto the handrails, fell. The court held that a bus driver is not negligent in failing to wait until all passengers are seated before moving the bus, because to require a driver to do so would require extraordinary precautions and impose too high a standard on the driver. The trial judge also concluded that the defendants were not liable because of the wet floor in the bus, because the transit operator is only obliged to keep the floor in such a condition that a person using ordinary care would not slip and a wet floor is not an unusual hazard.

[Emphasis added.]

[35]         Similarly in Habib v. Jack, 2011 BCSC 399 at paras. 39-40, this Court held that movement that is part of the normal and careful operation of the bus does not establish a breach of the standard of care.


[36]         I find that Mr. Anderson was a credible witness. He gave his evidence in a straight forward manner. I do not accept Ms. Dahl’s submission that he was lying as he testified in court that after the fall she was on her hands and knees but in his examination for discovery said she was on her back. I find that he was mistaken. He admitted that he really does not recall how she was positioned other than her head was toward the back of the bus and her body was toward the front.

[37]         Although he was respectful and polite toward Ms. Dahl in her cross-examination of him, it was clear that Mr. Anderson considered her fall to be minor. He seemed bewildered by her questions about the severity of the incident and her injuries.

[38]         I accept Mr. Anderson’s evidence that he pulled away from the curb when Ms. Dahl was in a safe area, and that he did not pull out sharply or too quickly.

[39]         I note that Ms. Dahl basically concedes the first fact. On her evidence she was in an area of the bus where there are many devices for passengers to hold onto. There are hanging straps and vertical and horizontal stanchions.

[40]         It is no mystery to a person riding a bus that when the bus moves so will they. Ms. Dahl was an experienced bus rider.

[41]         Further Ms. Dahl does not contend that Mr. Anderson pulled out too sharply or too quickly. Rather she says that he must have done something like that to cause her to fly in the air as she did.

[42]         I do not accept Ms. Dahl’s evidence regarding the fall. It is beyond belief that she was propelled into the air and flew through the bus. Nor do I accept her evidence that she was rendered unconscious and came to lodged under the front seat. To land in that position defies logic.

[43]         Moreover I find Ms. Dahl’s credibility to be questionable given what I find to be the false complaint she made in October 2011.

[44]         In all I find Ms. Dahl’s evidence to be exaggerated, over dramatized and unbelievable. I do not accept it.

[45]         I am not satisfied that Mr. Anderson breached the standard of care expected of a reasonable and prudent bus driver.

[46]         Following the authorities referred to above I find that it is not negligent for a driver to move the bus before a passenger is seated or holding on to something. There was nothing about Ms. Dahl that indicated to Mr. Anderson that he needed to take extraordinary precautionary measures with her nor did she testify about having any such issues.

[47]          I further find that there was nothing abnormal about Mr. Anderson’s driving. The movement of the bus that caused Ms. Dahl to fall was consistent with the normal and careful operation of the bus. As Justice Berger said in Sawatsky, supra, at page 2: 

Accidents do happen. And there are bound to be some accidents on the bus system. And some of them, like this accident, will not give rise to a right to damages.

[48]         This is one of those accidents. I do not find the defendants liable.

[49]         I should address one other ground of liability that was raised in the plaintiff’s case which is that there was water on the floor of the bus. According to Mr. Anderson, it had rained earlier in the day. This was not pursued with any vigour, in fact, Ms. Dahl stated at one point that she did not slip, she fell. In any event, if there was water on the floor, I do not find that it was a factor, nor do I find that the bus driver can be obliged to keep the floor dry. That would place an undue burden on him or her especially in Vancouver.

[50]         Having decided that the defendants are not liable I need not go further however for completeness I will comment on the plaintiff’s claim of injuries.

[51]         I am not satisfied that the plaintiff has proved on a balance of probabilities that anything beyond transitory injuries, some bruising and perhaps a sore leg, were caused by the fall on the bus. In my view the evidence does not provide a causal link for the injuries claimed.

[52]         With regard to the claim of a brain injury and the repercussions of same, I note that throughout the six day trial, Ms. Dahl was able to stay alert and present her case in a focussed, well prepared and organized manner.


[53]         The plaintiff’s case is dismissed.


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