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Valerie Edwards filed a personal-injury lawsuit against the New York City Transit Authority (TA), and others, seeking compensation for the physical harm she sustained while a passenger on a TA bus. Apparently, when the driver brought the bus to a sudden stop, (to avoid colliding with another vehicle), Ms. Edwards was propelled from her seat.

The New York County Supreme Court dispatched Edwards's case with a dismissal, finding that "the emergency doctrine" excused the TA from liability. This particular area of law provides that when a bus driver's only option is to stop short when faced with a "sudden and unexpected circumstance," no liability will attach for a passenger's injuries.  Of course, drivers are not afforded "carte blanche" in emergency situations.  Their course of action must be found to have been "reasonably prudent" under the circumstances presented.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, First Department, was not convinced that the doctine's governing elements had been triggered, and reinstated Ms. Edwards's case. The appellate court was of the opinion there were unresolved issues of fact relating to the driver's conduct.  While the driver testified that he was traveling at a speed of "2 to 5 miles per hour," Ms. Edwards contended that the bus was traveling "fast."

Although a dissenter asserted that Ms. Edwards's testimony as to the bus's speed was "wholly subjective, unquantifiable, and conclusory," and thus insufficient to support the lawsuit's survival, we think the majority did right to avoid a rush to judgment.  However, Ms. Edwards may do well to consider a settlement.

It is entirely likely that the Court of Appeals will buy the dissenter's analysis -- as to the questionable nature of Ms. Edwards's "evidence" -- and subject the plaintiff's case to yet another, albeit permanent, abrupt stop.

For a copy of the Appellate Division's decision in Edwards v. New York City Transit Authority, please click on the following link: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2007/2007_00727.htm