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What degree of care is owed to transit passengers?

Passengers injured on New York’s buses and subways must prove that the carriers’ negligence caused the injuries to receive compensation. As part of this proof, plaintiffs must establish the duty of care that these common carriers owed to its passengers.

Until the end of the 20th Century, New York courts generally held that these common carriers owed the highest standard, an extraordinary duty of care, to its passengers. This was described as the exercise of the utmost care, so far as human skill and foresight can go. This heightened responsibility reflected the dangers associated with earlier forms of mass transit, the dependency that passengers had on its safety systems, and the explosion of litigation resulting from the raising use of these systems.

However, public regulations and technological advances improved mass transit safety at least to the level of private transportation. This higher degree of care did not govern the operational employees or to the carrier’s stations, platforms or other entrance and exit facilities.

This legal standard also conflicted with the degree of negligence applied to most other civil cases. The general definition of negligence was the reasonable person standard. In other words, the issue is whether the common carrier exercised the degree of prudence and safety by a reasonable person taken into account the particular circumstances and dangers of the situation, including ultra-hazardous activities.

Applying an extraordinary level of care could lead to inconsistency and confusion in transit accidents. For example, a ticketed passenger would have more difficulty establishing negligence for an injury occurring on a subway platform than one suffered when the subway was in transit.

In 1998, the New York Court of Appeals overruled the extraordinary standard of care standard and established the reasonable person degree of care for common carriers. In that case, the Court applied the reasonable person standard to a lawsuit where a bus passenger was injured when he sat on a seat that collapsed.

Determining the responsibilities of common carriers and establishing liability for mass transit accidents may require legal assistance to help assure just compensation for injuries on a bus or subway. Legal advice may help assure that injured passengers can proceed with civil litigation.