“Any man beyond the age of 26, who finds himself on a bus, can count himself a failure.”
We might not know that we are entering into a legal contract, but that is what we are doing.
We agree that in exchange for payment of the bus fare that the bus company will take reasonable care to carry us safely to our destination. But what does the law say when something goes wrong and we are injured in the course of that journey? Who is liable and what can we as passengers do?
Liability is not strict. There must be a failure on someone’s part to take reasonable care; generally, the bus driver for whom the bus company is vicariously liable, or some third party vehicle driver.
Most of the cases involve moving off before passengers are seated, accelerating away too sharply, or braking too harshly.
There is a widespread belief that a bus driver should wait until all passengers are safely seated before moving off. This is not the law. The leading case is Fletcher v. United Coaches  PIQR P154, a decision of the Court of Appeal in England. The plaintiff suffered a chest injury when she fell on her way to a seat as the bus driver moved off. The bus driver had to carry out an emergency stop because of the actions of an unnamed vehicle. There was no criticism of the actions of the driver. He had moved off slowly. The other vehicle was untraced. At first instance, it was held that the driver should have waited until all passengers were seated before moving off. There was a 30% deduction for contributory negligence for failing to use the bus handholds. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgement. Bus schedules would be dramatically affected if this dictum were to be the law. Drivers do not have to wait until everyone is seated as long as they move off at a reasonable speed. The plaintiff in that case was 22 years old. There is probably an exception where the passengers involved are elderly or infirm, or perhaps children. Lady Stacey held as much in the Scottish case of Steel v. McGill’s Bus Services Limited  CSOH 5 finding liability, where the driver moved off before an elderly passenger unsteady on her feet, was seated. Liability might also attach to any jerky movement caused by too rapid acceleration while moving off.
The normal rules of road safety liability, namely the Highway Code, will apply. Where an emergency is created by another vehicle, the bus driver will not normally be liable, unless it can be shown, eg that he or she was driving too close to the leading vehicle. (See, eg McCrory vHutchison’s Coaches Ltd and Anr. Unreported Hamilton Sh Ct 2nd August 2007.) It is also likely that where there is such violent braking as to throw passengers from their seats, there is a primafacie inference of negligence which it is for the driver to displace. (Mars v Corporation of theCity of Glasgow and Anr. 1940 SC 203.)
In the old Scottish case of Sutherland v. Glasgow Corporation 1951 SC HL 1 it was held that a tram driver’s duty was to knock down the dog rather than risk passenger safety by emergency braking. Even judges are rather more tender-hearted these days and it is unlikely that this would be followed. In the unreported case of Phillips v. Glasgow FirstBus 2008, where emergency braking caused passengers to be injured but the dog unscathed, absolvitor was granted.
Bus companies are increasingly well organised to defend these claims. Relying no doubt on their driver’s report, your intimation of the claim will very frequently be met with the response that a third party is involved. Invariably it seems, that vehicle has driven off, with no identification details.