George Norman Green v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Appellant, No. 65 C.D. 201, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, 2015 Pa. Commw. Unpub. LEXIS 78, October 28, 2015

The “jerk and jolt doctrine” applies to claims of negligent operation of buses and the failure to present sufficient evidence required verdict against SEPTA to be vacated.

The plaintiff sued SEPTA regarding an injury he claims he sustained on one of the defendant’s buses. Trial resulted in a verdict against SEPTA in the statutory limits of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §8521, et. seq. SEPTA appealed, arguing that it was error to characterize it as a “common carrier” in the jury instructions and that the evidence at trial was insufficient to establish negligent operation of a vehicle.

The Commonwealth Court determined that, notwithstanding the fact that SEPTA, as a Commonwealth agency, fell outside the definition of a “common carrier” under the Public Utility Code, it still met the common law definition, and as such, it owed its passengers the highest duty of care. Notwithstanding the heightened duty of care, however, SEPTA is not an insurer of the safety of its passengers. As such, the plaintiff was required to establish negligent operation of the bus.

With respect to the “jerk and jolt” doctrine, a plaintiff must establish that the jerk or stop of the bus was so unusual and extraordinary so as to be beyond his reasonable anticipation by demonstrating either that the stop had an extraordinarily disturbing effect on the other passengers or evidence of an accident, the manner of the occurrence of which, or the effect of which upon the injured person inherently establishes the unusual character of the jerk or jolt. The plaintiff was standing at the time of his injury, and there was no evidence of the bus’s excessive speed or any other factors demonstrating that this was anything other than an ordinary jerk and jolt rather than extraordinary or exceptional jerk and jolt necessary to make out liability.

Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2016

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