In this decision the New South Wales Supreme Court made a finding of negligence against Sydney Trains for an employee (a train guard) failing to follow its proper system of keeping passengers safe by ensuring the Plaintiff had moved away from the train doors before giving the all clear to begin moving.

In issue

  • Whether the Defendant’s system of keeping passengers safe was adequate and followed by its employees.
  • The Defendant’s liability for the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff.
  • The Court’s considerations when assessing contributory negligence of a Plaintiff.

The background

On 4 August 2016 the Plaintiff attempted to board a train which had stopped at Auburn Railway Station. The Defendant is the operator of the station and train that the Plaintiff attempted to board.

As the Plaintiff attempted to board, the doors to the train began to close. The Plaintiff responded by throwing her handbag between the doors. This resulted in the doors closing on the strap of her handbag, with the Plaintiff still outside the train. Despite the Plaintiff standing next to the train, the customer service attendant at the station signalled to the train guard that it was safe to move.

As the train began to move, the Plaintiff was pulling on her handbag which had become stuck, resulting in her being pulled into the void between the platform and the moving train.

The accident was fully captured on the Defendant’s CCTV.

As a result of the accident, the Plaintiff suffered significant injuries including a ruptured bladder, numerous pelvic fractures, spinal fractures, and neural damage to her back and legs.

The decision at trial

The Defendant disputed the Plaintiff’s recollection of her account of the accident. The Court did not accept all of the Plaintiff’s evidence of her account of the accident, but found her to be an honest person.

The Defendant relied on tendency evidence to show the Plaintiff had been found intoxicated at the train station before, and was likely to have been intoxicated on this occasion. The Court rejected this inference.

The Defendant also led evidence from the customer service attendant and the train guard to establish that a reasonable system to keep passengers safe was implemented, followed and adequate.

The Defendant’s position, and the train guard’s evidence, was that the Plaintiff had appeared to begin moving away from the train prior to the signal being given. However, this position was abandoned during cross examination of the train guard. After watching the CCTV footage, he conceded that the Plaintiff had not moved away from the train before it moved. It was accepted that the Plaintiff did not place herself next to the train after it had commenced moving. She was in that position before the train had begun to move and had remained in that position.

The Court accepted the Plaintiff’s formulation of the risk of harm, and that it was reasonably foreseeable and significant. In that context it found that the Defendant was negligent. Although the Defendant was not required to guarantee the Plaintiff’s safety, in the circumstances the Court found that it had not appropriately discharged its duty of care to ensure a passenger, such as the Plaintiff, did not become trapped between the train doors whilst the train was moving. More specifically the Court considered the Defendant, through its train guard, failed to follow its own system and do what was necessary to ensure that it was safe for the train to move, thereby causing the Plaintiff to fall in the void between the platform and train and suffer injury.

The Plaintiff accepted she was guilty of contributory negligence. The Court assessed contributory negligence at 33% on the basis that the Plaintiff had placed herself in a position of danger by throwing her handbag into the train door while the door was closing.

Total damages were calculated at $1,760,251.54. A reduction of 33% for contributory negligence meant the Plaintiff received a damages award of $1,179,368.53.

Implications for you

Although the findings by the Court were largely factual and based on evidence of the parties, it is noted with interest that:

  1. The Court considered the Defendant had a proper system in place to ensure the safety of its passengers, that the Defendant’s employees were properly trained in the operation of this system and that they understood and followed the system; however
  2. The Court still found that the Defendant was negligent i.e. through the actions of its employee, the train guard, who had not properly complied with the Defendant’s system on this occasion.

Chol v Sydney Trains [2022] NSWSC 1266