De Vera v. Long Beach Pub. Transp. Co.

180 Cal. App. 3d 782, 225 Cal. Rptr. 789 (1986)

 

RULE:

A carrier can readily foresee the possibility of harm to its passengers by reason of its failure to collect and preserve information concerning a motorist involved in an accident with the carrier's vehicle, in that the passengers could be foreclosed from recovery against such a motorist for any injuries they sustained in the accident.

FACTS:

Plaintiff passenger was injured in a collision while riding in defendant public transportation company's bus. The bus driver either never obtained or lost information concerning the identity of the third party driver involved in the accident. Plaintiff brought a negligence action against defendant. Plaintiff was awarded damages, and defendant appealed. Defendant argued that it did not have a duty to collect information for plaintiff's possible action against the third party driver involved in the accident. The court affirmed.

ISSUE:

Does a common carrier owe a duty to its passengers to investigate an accident caused by a third party for the purpose of facilitating a claim by the passenger against the third party tortfeasor? 

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The court rejected defendant's contention that it had no special relationship with its passengers that gave rise to a duty to investigate and to assemble evidence for future civil litigation. The court ruled that it found such an expanded duty. The court also rejected defendant's attack on the jury instructions, which defendant argued did not require the jury to determine whether the accident had been hit-and-run, in which case the bus driver could not have obtained the other driver's identity. The court held that the instruction permitted a verdict in plaintiff's favor only if it found that the requisite information was available to defendant at the scene of the accident.

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