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NJ Transit and Public Agency Immunity

August 10, 2015 | Posted In Personal Injury/Negligence - Personal Injury |

As a public agency, NJ Transit enjoys immunity in many legal cases.  But a recent decision from a New Jersey appellate court has the potential to test those limits. The court ruled that a woman who was attacked on a bus by other passengers can allege in her personal injury lawsuit that the driver had a responsibility to stop the bus.

The plaintiff, Anasia Maison, was riding an NJ transit bus on July 22, 2013, when the incident occurred. According to her lawsuit, the passengers “became increasingly and significantly unruly for a sufficient amount of time” during her commute. When one of the passengers threw a glass object at Maison’s face, she suffered “significant and permanent injuries.”

In her original complaint, Maison stated that the bus driver, Kevin Coats, had “a duty to maintain security on the bus, to keep plaintiff safe from harm from other passengers, and to take reasonable and necessary steps to prevent the incident from occurring and to prevent plaintiff from suffering his injuries.”

Coats was supposed to ensure that the people on the bus were riding safely, and Maison’s suit extended that protection to include breaking up a fight or unruly crowd. Because Coats failed to do so, Maison’s lawsuit alleges that his inaction created a dangerous condition which caused her to suffer serious injuries.

NJ Transit’s Immunity Argument

NJ Transit countered Maison’s lawsuit by claiming immunity as a public agency and exempt under state law. This portion of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:5-4, states that public agencies are not responsible for providing police protection.

The first judge who handled the case agreed with NJ Transit’s motion that the case should be dismissed with prejudice due to public agency immunity. Maison then filed a motion for consideration with a second judge who reinstated the lawsuit, but with the caveat that it should be dismissed without prejudice. Simply stated, Maison should be allowed to revise her claim, but NJ Transit would be required to answer.

On appeal, Maison said that NJ Transit should be held responsible because Coats could have asked the passengers to settle down and stop their harassment before Maison was injured. He also could have stopped the bus and ordered the passengers off or called police so that Maison could be protected from the others.

Appellate Judges Marie Simonelli and George Leone ruled that Maison’s claims of Coats’ responsibility to ask the harassers to stop or to call the police were tricky because those came close to being categorized as providing police protection. However, the claim that Coats could have stopped the bus is not easily dismissed, and as such, it allowed her to resubmit her lawsuit.

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, we represent anyone who has been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence or has endured harm because someone failed to perform their job or offer adequate protections. For more information regarding the state’s laws on immunity and negligence, contact a New Jersey personal injury lawyer at HCK for a consultation today.  

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