Though Plaintiff Alleged Negligence Against NYC Bus Driver, Court of Appeals Holds that Bus Was Not Proximate Cause of Accident.

In Cividanes v. City of New York, plaintiff alleged that she was injured as she “she stepped off the last step [of the bus] into a hole [on the street] and fell.”  Plaintiff sued the City of New York, the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority and New York City Transit Authority (hereinafter collectively the “MTA”).  The case against the City was dismissed based on a lack of prior written notice of the hole.  The MTA moved to dismiss based on plaintiff’s failure to sustain a “Threshold Injury,” under New York’s No-Fault Insurance Law.  However, the Court of Appeals held that since the accident occurred due to “step[ping] into a hole,” the No Fault Law was inapplicable because the “use or operation” of the bus was neither a “proximate cause” nor an “instrumentality” that produced plaintiff’s injury.

This decision seems bizarre given that that the City was let out of the case, and the only remaining defendants was the MTA.  Indeed Judge Pigott wrote a lengthily dissent wherein he disagreed with the majority.  In his opinion, he noted that plaintiff’s claim against the MTA was based upon a breach of duty to stop at a place where she could safely disembark.  The claim was that the driver positioned the bus next to a hole in the street when stopping the vehicle.  As such, Judge Pigott’s opinion was that since plaintiff’s claim was that the bus driver was “negligen[t] in the . . . operation of a motor vehicle,” the No Fault Law should have been applicable.

The moral of this story is that New York State No Fault Law is extremely fact specific, and oftentimes courts, even the Court of Appeals, come to conclusions that appear to defy prior precedent and the logical application of the statute to the facts.

For more information about this post, please contact Cheryl Fuchs at cfuchs@wcmlaw.com.