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It has been held that the duty imposed upon carriers by Cal. Civ. Code § 2100 includes a duty to protect passengers from assaults by fellow passengers.
Plaintiffs Carmen and Carla Lopez, Yolanda and Jose de Dios and Zenaida Arce brought this action against the Southern California Rapid Transit District (RTD) for injuries they received when a fight broke out among passengers on board an RTD bus. RTD is a public corporation engaged as a common carrier in the business of transporting members of the general public. While plaintiffs were on board an RTD bus as fare-paying passengers, a group of juveniles began harassing other passengers and a "violent argument" ensued. The bus driver was notified of the "altercation" but "failed to take any precautionary measures, and continued to operate the said bus." The argument eventually escalated into a "violent physical fight" and plaintiffs were injured. Plaintiffs alleged that RTD "so negligently operated, owned, maintained, supervised, entrusted, inspected, controlled and drove the bus so as to allow the passengers involved in the violent argument to engage in a violent physical fight," and that plaintiffs were injured as a direct and proximate result of RTD's negligence. Plaintiffs further alleged that there was a history of violent and assaultive conduct by passengers on this particular bus route, that violent incidents occurred daily or weekly, and that RTD was fully aware of this history of violence and the risk posed to passengers riding its buses. RTD demurred to plaintiffs' first amended complaint, alleging that the complaint failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action and was fatally uncertain. In its points and authorities accompanying the demurrer, RTD argued that it had no duty to protect passengers from assaults by fellow passengers and that it was immune from liability under Government Code sections 845, 820.2 and 815.2, subdivision (b). The trial court sustained RTD's demurrer without leave to amend and entered an order of dismissal on the grounds that "RTD, a public entity, is immune from liability under the facts of this case."
Did RTD, as a public carrier, have a duty duty to use the utmost care and diligence to protect its passengers from assaults by fellow passengers?
Even if budgetary constraints alone were sufficient reason to exempt a public carrier rom the duties imposed upon private carriers, the court did not find RTD's argument persuasive. Contrary to RTD's contention, the cost and feasibility of providing an armed security force was not the issue here. Rather, the issue wasa more general one: whether RTD, as a public carrier, has a duty to use utmost care and diligence -- whatever that may require in a particular case -- to protect its passengers from assaults by fellow passengers. Finding such a duty to exist is not the functional equivalent of finding a duty to provide an armed security guard on every bus. There are a number of actions a carrier might take short of placing an armed guard on each bus which, in a given case, might be sufficient to meet the duty imposed by Civil Code section 2100. For instance, where the disorderly conduct of certain passengers threatens the safety of others, the bus driver (subject, of course, to reasonable concern for his own safety), might warn the unruly passengers to quiet down or get off the bus; or, if necessary, eject the unruly passengers (Civ. Code, § 2188). Carriers could provide radio communication between the bus driver and local police or bus headquarters to enable the driver to call for assistance when needed, and buses could be equipped with alarm lights to alert nearby police or carrier personnel of criminal activity taking place on board the bus. Bus drivers, especially those on routes with a history of criminal activity, could be trained to recognize and deal with potentially volatile situations.