Big Court Victory for New York City Bus Passengers: Noted New York Personal Injury Lawyer Issues Warning After Ruling

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Major ruling in New York County court recently should go a long way to improve safety conditions for anyone who rides a New York City bus.

"If the doors of a New York City bus close before you get on board safely, wait for the next bus. Or, it could cost you your life!"

A New York County jury held the Transit Authority responsible last week for one of its bus drivers who ran over a 13-year-old boy as the bus was pulling away from the stop at 145th St. and Convent Ave. (Case: MABSTOA and Courtney Thompson, Index no. 101833/07).

Shortly after a four man, two woman jury awarded Ernest Lewis $6,783,202.90 for serious injuries he sustained in the November 19, 2005 accident, his attorney Richard Gurfein issued this warning: “If the doors of a city bus close before you get on board safely, wait for the next bus! Don’t run along side the bus yelling, or hit it, trying to get the driver’s attention. Some bus drivers don’t follow the rules and don’t drive to avoid accidents.”

The engineering expert who testified at the trial explained that city buses drive like tractor-trailers. The back wheels swing out wide when the front wheels are turned. Double-length articulated buses, like the one that ran over Lewis, are 60 feet long. When the driver leaves the bus stop the back wheels swing toward the sidewalk.

“Bus drivers are supposed to make sure no pedestrians are near the side of the bus when it starts moving”, Gurfein explained. “For this and other safety reasons, NY Vehicle and Traffic Law requires bus drivers to drive defensively. But most New Yorkers who’ve ever tried to catch a bus know that operators seldom follow this rule.”

The bus company – in this case the NYC Transit Authority – is also required to examine every driver’s defensive driving performance, once a year. “Whether they actually do or not is another matter,” Gurfein added. “Maybe this court ruling will help insure that this happens.”

Gurfein said the bus driver admitted in court that the side of a bus is dangerous. He testified that the rear end can swing over the sidewalk when a bus is leaving a stop; and he conceded that all bus drivers know they have to check their right side mirrors to make sure there are no pedestrians close to the bus in the zone of danger.

In this instance, Gurfein’s client, who was slapping on the side of the bus trying to get the drivers attention, tripped and fell in front of the middle wheels. Tragically for the boy, the driver cut into traffic at the same time and ignored the child’s presence and banging.

“The middle wheel ran over my client’s legs,” Gurfein said.

The teen was rushed to New York Presbyterian Children’s Hospital where he spent 3 ½ weeks undergoing treatment for fractures and severe tissue damage to his leg. Trauma specialists performed multiple surgeries to save his legs.

Alphonza Elliott, an eyewitness, who was riding on the bus when the accident occurred, said he saw the child and heard the banging. He told the jury the bus was still stopped when the child fell.

“The concerned passenger tried to warn the driver, Gurfein said, “but it was too late. The driver already started pulling away.”


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Richard Jachetti

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