TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A New Jersey appeals court has reversed summary judgment by a lower court against a passenger hit by a commuter bus.
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court found Sept. 5 that a reasonable jury could find in the plaintiff Leonides Stergios' favor if it applied negligent conduct as a substantial factor in bringing about Stergios’ injuries.
The court maintained that the Borough of Harrington Park could have installed sidewalks or guardrails, removed the hedges to provide a pathway, removed a shelter, or erected a sign barring bus drivers and commuters from using a shelter at the curb as a courtesy bus stop.
“We conclude summary judgment was improvidently granted, vacate the judgment in the Borough's favor and remand for further proceedings,” the court wrote.
On Aug. 10, 2011, the order states that plaintiff Leonides Stergios disembarked a New Jersey commuter bus at 5:30 p.m. with six other passengers at a sheltered bus stop owned by the Borough of Harrington Park on the way to her car in a nearby parking lot.
The shelter, located at a curb of a one-way street on Borough property, was not an official stop, and there were no sidewalks.
Due to a hedgerow proximate to the curb, Stergios walked in the street. As the driver moved the bus, he failed to notice Stergios and hit her, driving one wheel over her leg, the opinion states.
Stergios and her husband filed a civil action naming New Jersey Transit, New Jersey Transit Bus Operations and the driver Paul Lowney. They also sued the Borough of Harrington Park.
The Stergioses settled their claims against the driver and New Jersey Transit.
The Borough filed and was granted a motion for summary judgment; the plaintiffs appealed. The appellate court debated whether the evidence submitted on the motion established the Borough's entitlement to judgment in light of evidence favorable to the Stergioses.
“The Borough argues that even if it had actual or constructive notice, the evidence would not permit a jury to find its failure to correct the condition as ‘palpably unreasonable,'" the per curiam opinion states.
The appellate court affirmed that a “reasonable jury could infer the Borough exacerbated the risk by erecting this shelter at the curb,” the court wrote. It cited the relative locations involved in the incident, including the hedgerow and the lack of a guardrail and sidewalks.