We all know that, whether as a pedestrian, cyclist, or fellow motorist if one suffers injuries due to a motor vehicle accident, damages can be recovered by suing the vehicle’s owner and driver. But what happens when someone suffers injury getting onto while riding on, or getting off of, a public vehicle such as a bus? Can you sue the bus driver? The owner of the bus company? How can one recover damages for injuries suffered in such an accident? 

The recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in Bruni v Toronto Transit Commission et al. answers all those questions.

A Woman Suffers Injury Debarking a Bus

The case of Bruni v Toronto Transit Commission et al. involved the plaintiff, Lucia Bruni, a 76-year-old woman who, on July 1, 2017, fell when she was debarking from a bus operated by the defendant, Timothy Tan (“Tan”) and owned by the Toronto Transit Commission (“TTC”). At the time of the incident, Bruni had been using a walker because she had difficulty with her knees. She had used the walker, off and on and without incident, for several years before the incident occurred. In addition, Bruni was well-familiar with riding on the TTC with her walker, and she had never before experienced any difficulty in either embarking or debarking from a bus with her walker. 

On the date in question, Bruni boarded the bus without incident with her son, Sergio. The driver of the bus, Tam, had lowered the bus (a term known as “kneeling the bus”) so that she could accommodate her, bringing her walker on board more easily. Bruni did not ask Tam to deploy the ramp for her to use with her walker, though he testified that he would have done so if asked. Once on board, she walked up to the driver, without her walker, to show him her transfer ticket before returning to her seat. Bruni pressed the button to indicate the stop she wished to debark from the bus, and Tam obliged by stopping the bus at the requested stop. Bruni testified that she waited until the bus stopped before she got up from her seat and began walking to the front. While Tam had lowered or “knelt” the bus, Bruni did not request that he deploy the ramp for her to use upon her exit. Once she reached the bus exit, a “low floor” bus with no stairs, Bruni thought she was close enough to the curb to exit the vehicle safely. However, as she exited, the front wheels of her walker fell into the gap between the bus and the curb, which caused her to lose her balance and fall forward, face first, onto the pavement. 

Bruni suffered several injuries as a result of her fall, and she sued the driver of the bus, Tan, and the bus company itself, the TTC, for damages for those injuries. Her action was brought in negligence. 

The Principles of Simple Negligence

To be successful in a negligence claim, the injured party must prove four things: that the alleged perpetrator owed the victim a duty of care, that the alleged perpetrator breached that duty, that the victim suffered injury or harm, and that such harm or injury is attributable to the breach of duty. Since the action is civil, the allegations must be proven on a balance of probabilities. 

In a traditional action for negligence, say, one motor vehicle driver suing another for damages for injuries suffered in a car accident, the standard of care that the court applies is that of a reasonable driver. In other words, in assessing whether the defendant is liable for negligence, the court will consider what a reasonable driver in similar circumstances would have done. In an action for negligence involving a bus driver and/or bus company, the standard of care that the court applies is that of a reasonable bus driver in similar circumstances. As stated by the court in this action, to satisfy that standard, “the bus driver must use all due, proper, and reasonable care and skill in the circumstances. This objective test considers both the experience of the reasonable bus driver and anything the driver knew or should have known”. Each case is determined on its own merits, and the court noted that when the action involves a common carrier such as a bus or subway company, the standard of care is higher than that placed on the average person. Suppose the plaintiff can successfully demonstrate that the defendant’s negligence caused her injuries. In that case, she has established what the court calls a “prima facie case,” and the onus then shifts to the bus company to provide evidence to disprove that it was at fault. 

Bruni alleged in her Statement of Claim that when an elderly passenger like herself boards a bus using a walker or other mobility assistance aid, then the bus operator is duty-bound “to take special measures to address the risk of injury presented by the gap between the bus and the curb, such as deploying the ramp or moving the bus closer to the curb.” She contended that, as Tan had observed her board the bus with her walker, he should have known that she required special assistance with exiting the bus and thus should have taken extra effort to bring the bus closer to the curb or deploy the ramp for her. 

The court rejected the contention that Tan should have deployed the ramp before allowing Bruni to exit the bus, finding that “there was nothing that would have been apparent to Mr. Tan to alert him that Mrs. Bruni needed to use the ramp to get off the bus,” as the “simple fact” that Bruni was using a walker “would not, without more, convey to Mr. Tan that Mrs. Bruni needed to use a ramp to exit the bus safely.” In these circumstances, the court was satisfied that Bruni had not made out a prima facie case that Tan failed to meet the standard of care by neglecting to deploy the ramp. 

Upon review of all of the evidence, the court was similarly satisfied that Bruni had not proven that Tan failed to use all due, proper and reasonable care when he failed to move the bus closer to the curb upon reaching Bruni’s stop. Bruni had testified that she had taken TTC buses many times over the years and was extremely familiar with how to use public transit. Moreover, when she had boarded the bus, she had done so without the assistance of her son, who boarded in front of her, and she had walked to the front of the bus without the assistance of her walker to provide her transfer ticket. In these circumstances, Tan could not have been expected to assume that Bruni would require the bus to be moved closer to the curb to exit the bus. Given these findings, the court was forced to conclude that Bruni had not made out a prima facie case that Tan had failed to use proper care concerning his treatment of Bruni. The actions against both Tan and the TTC were dismissed.

If you are involved in a legal personal injury action as a result of a motor vehicle accident, whether the accident involved a car, a pedestrian, a cyclist (including a motorcyclist), a snowmobile, an ATV or a common carrier such as a bus company, you need qualified, competent legal representation. Fortunately, the capable, knowledgeable, skilled litigators at Tierney Stauffer LLP are available and are proud to assist clients throughout Canada’s capital region with their legal personal injury needs. 

Contact Tierney Stauff LLP online or by telephone at 1-888-799-8057, to schedule a confidential consultation.


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