The underlying claim involved a serious accident between a public transit bus and an SUV which resulted in the death of three of the SUV's occupants (including its operator) and catastrophic injuries to a fourth individual. The operator of the SUV had been drinking and entered the intersection on a red light. The bus entered the intersection on a green light and struck the side of the SUV. The issues at trial were whether the bus driver was negligent in his operation of the bus and whether his negligence caused or contributed to the accident.
The Trial Judge found the municipality and bus driver 20 percent liable for the collision. Of particular note was the Trial Judge’s finding that the bus driver was subject to a heightened standard of care given his status as a professional driver. The Trial Judge found the bus driver negligent on the basis that he was traveling at an excessive rate of speed given the conditions and that he briefly took his eyes off the road in front of him as the bus approached the intersection. The Trial Judge also concluded that, but for these negligent acts, the bus driver could have avoided the collision.
The defendant municipality and bus driver appealed the trial judgment on the basis that the Trial Judge erred in imposing a higher standard of care, that of a professional driver, on the bus driver and in her causation analysis. The Court of Appeal rejected both grounds of appeal.
The Court found no error in the consideration of the bus driver’s training and experience as relevant to the determination of the applicable standard of care. In fact, the Court stated that the bus driver had himself conceded the relevance of his status as a professional bus driver.
On the issue of causation, the Court found that the Trial Judge’s conclusion that the accident could have been avoided but for the bus driver’s rate of speed and momentary inattentiveness was “amply supported” by the evidentiary record. Moreover, the Court emphasized that the Trial Judge was not required to determine, with scientific precision, the exact speed of the bus at the time of impact in order to reach that conclusion.
The Court of Appeal’s decision confirms that trained and professional operators of specialized vehicles, such as buses and trucks, may be held to a higher standard of care than the general public.