Monday, June 17, 2013

Don't Assume Anything

Another example of a personal injury case that seems absurd at first glance but makes sense upon reflection: Some time back reports were published about a personal injury case against a school board and the driver of a school bus following an injury to a grammar school student who was hit by a car while crossing the street on his way home from school after getting off the bus. The driver of the car that hit the child was sued, too, but had nothing to do with the school board or the driver of the bus.

So where do the school board the bus driver fit in to this story?

Once the child left the bus, he had to cross the street to get home, and the driver of the bus had a duty to avoid striking the child with the bus, of course, but no duty to assist the child to get across the street. As it happens, the child chose to cross the street in front of the bus, and the driver of the bus waved the child across. The child passed safely in front of the bus but was struck by a car traveling in the next lane. As noted, the bus driver was under no duty to guide and direct the child across the street, but the driver assumed the duty by waving the child across. Once the duty was assumed, the driver was obligated to carry it out with care under pain of liability for negligence on the part of the driver and its principal, the school board.

This subject, liability for negligent performance of an assumed duty, often appears in the context of trips, slips, and falls in snowy and icy places. Landowners are not liable for injuries attributable to natural accumulations of snow and ice. But once they undertake to shovel and plow the ice and snow, they must discharge the duty with care under pain of liability for negligence.