This week’s question comes from Phyllis, who asks:
Q: “Yesterday, a Muni bus went out of control and crashed into a tree and store. One of my friends was on the bus and was injured. There is a rumor that the driver had some kind of medical problem, since he was unconscious following the collision. How do you determine who is at fault in a situation like this? If he had a heart attack or some other medical issue is Muni still responsible?”
A: For those unaware of the events of Sept. 10, a Muni bus traveling east on Lombard crossed the center divider, westbound travel lanes, and sidewalk before colliding with a tree and several buildings. Thankfully, no one driving westbound, walking on the sidewalk, or in the buildings was hurt. The collision was particularly severe because the front of the bus became elevated as it ran up the tree, causing passengers to be thrown about violently. The events were captured on a dashcam of a westbound vehicle that narrowly escaped being hit. Several passengers and the driver were critically injured and taken to the hospital. Others on the bus were injured but did not require emergency medical attention.
Muni is considered a “common carrier,” an entity that transports people in exchange for compensation. Under California law, a common carrier owes a greater duty to its passengers than a private driver. A private driver is held to the “reasonable person standard”: they owe a legal duty to act as a reasonable person would in similar circumstances. Common carriers, on the other hand, owe “the highest duty of care” to their passengers and must provide equipment and personnel suitable to meet this utmost standard. A person or entity that breaches their legal duty to others is deemed negligent and therefore liable for injuries caused as a result.
Employers are liable for the negligence of employees acting within the “scope and course” of their employment. Therefore, if a Muni driver is negligent, The City and County of San Francisco (“The City”) can be held responsible for any injuries caused. The City carries a combination of self-insurance and policies purchased from insurance companies to pay for such legal damages.
As of Tuesday afternoon, The City has released no official statement regarding what transpired immediately before the bus crossed the median. We do not know if the driver fell asleep, had a heart attack, swerved to avoid another vehicle and lost control, or if the bus suffered an equipment malfunction. I have seen all of the above in the hundreds of collisions my office has handed over the last 25 years of my practice. Here are a few possible scenarios:
Phyllis, as you can see, these are complicated cases. I suggest that your friend contact a plaintiff’s trial attorney who is skilled in both investigating and prosecuting these cases.
We serve clients across the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Our work is no recovery, no free or also referred to as contingency-based. That means we collect no fee unless we obtain money for your damages and injuries.