Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357641; Published
Judges Letica, Markey, and O’Brien; Authored
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Forthcoming; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous, published decision authored by Judge Markey, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Marsha Anderson’s third-party negligence action against Defendants Transdev Services, Inc. and MI Rail (collectively, “the defendants”). The Court of Appeals held, first, that bus drivers are not required to wait until an onboarding passenger completes a ticket-related transactions at the front of the bus before accelerating from a stop. The Court of Appeals held, second, that evidence that Anderson and her friend fell after the defendants’ bus driver accelerated, in and of itself, was not sufficient to create a question of fact as to whether the driver acted negligently by accelerating in an unnecessarily violent and sudden manner.
Marsha Anderson was injured shortly after boarding a bus owned by the defendants. Anderson and her friend entered onto the bus, but before they could insert their tickets and find a seat, the bus’s driver, Kyle Miller, accelerated, causing Anderson and her friend to fall, and Anderson to become injured. After the incident, Anderson filed a third-party action against the defendants, and the defendants moved for summary disposition, relying on Michigan case law which stands for the general proposition that bus drivers do not have to wait until all passengers are seated before accelerating. Following a hearing on the defendants’ motion, the trial granted summary disposition in their favor, finding that Anderson “failed to submit evidence of a special reason why the streetcar driver should have delayed moving forward,” and, secondly, that Anderson “failed to establish as a matter of law that the acceleration of the streetcar was unnecessarily violent or sudden.”
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of the defendants, affirming, preliminarily, that longstanding Michigan case law establishes that a bus driver need not wait to accelerate until all his or her passengers are seated unless there is a “special and apparent reason to the contrary.” In this case, Anderson argued that the requirement that a passenger place a ticket in a receptacle at the front of the bus before finding a seat constitutes such a “special and apparent reason,” and asked the Court to “recognize an obligation or duty by the driver to wait to move forward until a passenger goes through the process of submitting his or her ticket and finds a seat.” The Court declined to recognize such an obligation or duty, holding that “ticket-related transactions on boarding a bus or streetcar are certainly commonplace and recognizing an exception to the general rule as proffered by plaintiff would swallow up the rule.”
“Under Getz and Ottinger, the question in this case becomes whether there was some special and apparent reason why we should not apply the general rule that streetcar drivers are not required to wait until all passengers are seated before operating the streetcar in a forward motion. Plaintiff argues that because passengers are required to place their tickets in a receptacle before finding a seat, the law should recognize an obligation or duty by the driver to wait to move forward until a passenger goes through the process of submitting his or her ticket and finds a seat. We conclude that plaintiff’s argument does not constitute a “special” reason for not applying the general rule. Although Getz did not place any focus on the fact that the plaintiff was waiting for a transfer ticket when she fell, ticket-related transactions on boarding a bus or streetcar are certainly commonplace and recognizing an exception to the general rule as proffered by plaintiff would swallow up the rule.”
The Court further held that, “To the extent that [Anderson] contends that the driver should have waited because it was an unusually busy day, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ottinger reflects the reasoning that overcrowded streetcars is one of the primary reasons that the general rule of nonliability exists.” Thus, even if it was an “unusually busy day,” that, alone, would not be a “special and apparent reason” to wait before accelerating.
Next, the Court of Appeals disposed of Anderson’s contention that Miller acted negligently by accelerating in an unnecessarily violent and sudden manner. The Court noted that “the only evidence provided in support of the acceleration being unnecessarily violent or sudden was [Anderson’s] testimony that her friend also fell.” The Court held that that evidence, in and of itself, was not sufficient to create a question of fact as to whether Miller accelerated in an unnecessarily violent and sudden manner.
“In this case, the only evidence provided in support of the acceleration being unnecessarily violent or sudden was plaintiff’s testimony that her friend also fell. Plaintiff relies on the statement in Ottinger that no one else had fallen during the sudden stop. Ottinger, 166 Mich at 108-109. But as the trial court recognized below, this fact was mentioned only briefly in Ottinger, while the Court mostly focused on the plaintiff’s fall being a product of natural and expected forces. Id. We cannot conclude that evidence that two people fell when the streetcar pulled forward created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the streetcar’s acceleration was unnecessarily violent or sudden.”