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When the Duties of a Bus Driver to His Passengers End Under New York Law


It is common knowlege, and common sense for that matter, that if a bus driver operates the bus in a negligent manner, and either one or more passengers are injured as a result, the driver can be held liable in negligence for the passengers' injuries as a matter of New York law.

But what is somewhat less clear is at what point the bus driver's duties to his or her passengers ends. (The beginning of the responsibility is fairly evident: when the passengers are picked up.)

Fortunately, New York State's highest court has given us some guidance on this issue, stating:

"It has long been the rule that "[a] common carrier owes a duty to an alighting passenger to stop at a place where the passenger may safely disembark and leave the area" (Miller v Fernan, 73 NY2d 844, 846 [1988], citing [*3]Fagan v Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co., 220 NY 301, 306-307 [1917]). Once that occurs, no further duty exists, even if the disembarking passenger is a school child who attempts to cross a street by passing in front of a stopped bus (see e.g. Wisoff v County of Westchester, 296 AD2d 402 [2d Dept 2002]; Sigmond v Liberty Lines Tr., 261 AD2d 385, 387 [2d Dept 1999]; Kramer v Lagnese, 144 AD2d 648, 649 [2d Dept 1988]; Mooney v Niagara Frontier Tr. Metro Sys., 125 AD2d 997, 998 [4th Dept 1986])."

In other words, once the passenger has been dropped off in a safe area (e.g., not in the middle of moving traffic), the driver's responsibility to that particular passenger will end.

To that end, however it is important to note the following:  the rules regarding children's school buses are somewhat different, and their safety obligations are higher.