Jennifer Quaid v Bus Eireann/Irish Bus

CourtHigh Court
JudgeMs. Justice Egan
Judgment Date23 February 2022
Neutral Citation[2022] IEHC 125
Docket Number[2015 2384 P]
Jennifer Quaid
Bus Eireann/Irish Bus
Defendant (s)

[2022] IEHC 125

[2015 2384 P]


JUDGMENT of Ms. Justice Egan delivered ex tempore on the 23rd day of February, 2022


The plaintiff was born on the 15th October, 1983 and is now 38 years of age. These proceedings relate to an incident which occurred on the 19th March, 2014 when the plaintiff was a passenger on the defendant's bus. The plaintiff alleges that, as a result of the bus driver's negligence, the bus had to brake very suddenly to avoid a collision, as a consequence of which she was severely jolted in her seat and experienced a back injury, which, despite significant treatment, persists to this day. Although denying any negligence, the defendant accepts that, on the occasion in question, heavier than normal braking was applied to prevent an accident, but maintains that the plaintiff could not have sustained an injury as a result of these events.

Circumstances of the incident

The plaintiff was travelling with her mother, Geraldine Quaid, as a passenger on the defendant's bus from Limerick city centre to O'Malley Park in the south of the city. The incident occurred shortly before 6pm in a 50 km per hour zone at the junction of Carew Park and the Roxboro Road. Of these two, Roxboro Road is the road of greater importance. The road conditions were dry and there was ample daylight.


In understanding the scene of the accident, I have been assisted by photographs taken by Dr. Vincent Kelly, chartered engineer and chartered safety practitioner, who gave evidence for the plaintiff. The bus, which had been travelling along Carew Road, approached the junction, intending to turn right onto the Roxboro Road towards O'Malley Park. As one approaches the junction from this direction, it is governed by a stop sign. The word “stop” is painted on the carriageway and there is also a stop line on the road approximately twelve feet back from the outer line of the footpath. It is common case that if a bus were to stop exactly at the stop line, a driver's vision to the left would be obstructed by a wall, allowing road visibility of only 71 metres to the left. If, however, the front of the bus is aligned with the curb at the mouth of the junction, road visibility to the left extends to 138 metres.


This incident was recorded on three separate CCTV cameras with which the bus was equipped, which captured frames at a rate of 2.5 per second. This footage has been helpfully analysed by Mr. John G. Sullivan, engineer and assessor, who gave evidence for the plaintiff and by Mr. Tony O'Keeffe, consulting engineer, who gave evidence for the defendant. Both engineers have also taken a series of stills from this footage which I have considered.


The first CCTV camera was placed inside the bus slightly above and to the right of the back of the driver's head. The second camera is also situated inside the bus and records the interior of the bus, filming from the front to the rear. The third camera is in the nature of a dashcam and is located along the bus's front windscreen. This camera records speed at which the bus was travelling as captured by GPS. GPS calculated speeds are not as accurate as a speedometer and there may also be a slight time lag in the speed recorded on the CCTV footage at any given second. Overall, however, it was common case that the CCTV footage provides a good representation of these events. It is also worth observing that, although the front camera purports to record the acceleration of the bus, the acceleration metre was broken at the time of the incident. Therefore, the degree of acceleration and deceleration was calculated by the respective party's engineers and is the subject matter of some dispute.


The CCTV footage from the dashcam at the front of the bus shows the bus approaching the junction. One can see that the bus passes the stop sign, the stop line and the word STOP painted on the road. The bus does not come to a stop but rather slows down to a crawl of 2 km per hour at the edge of the Roxboro road. The camera overlooking the driver's head shows that the driver is looking left and right as he emerges onto the Roxboro road and continues across the carriageway. As the bus continues across the carriageway, nearing the centre line of the road, it gains speed up to approximately 11 km per hour. During the last couple of frames prior to the bus reaching the centre line of the road, the footage from the camera above the drivers head, which shows the roadway to his left, reveals a black car in the far lane approaching from the direction of the Roxboro roundabout. Although this car is visible on the CCTV footage, it appears that the bus driver does not initially notice it while he proceeds across the near lane to the centre line. Just as the bus crosses the centre line travelling at 11 km per hour, the bus driver applies his brakes. The bus does not come to stop but rather drops its speed from 11 km per hour to 10 km per hour, 3 km per hour and finally 2 km per hour. During this time, the approaching black car veers to its left to avoid the bus, moving very close to the margin of the road. The evidence is that there appeared to be approximately a one metre distance between the front of the bus and the driver's side of the black car as it passes. After the black car passes in front of it, the bus regains its speed and follows the car down the road.


The CCTV footage from the inside of the bus captures the reaction of the passengers to the braking incident. It is fair to say that the CCTV footage suggests that such reactions are very subtle. There are only a handful of people on the bus at the relevant time. The plaintiff and her mother appear to be are seated in the fifth row from the front of the bus. The plaintiff is in the aisle seat and her mother is in the window seat. The plaintiff is seated with her left arm by her side and was in conversation with her mother both before and after the incident. As the bus brakes, the plaintiff's left upper arm remains by her side but her left lower arm moves up towards the top of the seat in front of her. It is not possible to see from the camera angle whether or not the plaintiff's hand makes contact with, or perhaps momentarily grips, the seat in front of her. After the braking incident, the plaintiff's left arm goes back down to her lap and her right hand comes up to her head for a short period of time. Thereafter, the plaintiff adopts her former position. From the camera angle, it is difficult to see whether the plaintiff's torso moves forward and back at the time of the braking incident. However if it does so, then this is only to a small extent.


The reaction of the other occupants of the bus is also of some relevance as they were, of course, subjected to the same deceleration forces as the plaintiff. Ms. Patricia Walsh Bodie is seated two rows in front of the plaintiff. She is sitting with her knees and ankles together and her legs are angled to one side. Her left hand is on the top of the seat in front of her, with her arm braced for support. At the moment of the incident, Ms. Bodie's left arm bends and then straightens again. From this, one can infer that her torso must have moved forward and then back to some extent. It does not appear that this is a particularly violent movement although one could not exclude some jolting or jerking. Also on the bus is a passenger very close to the camera at the front of the bus is was wearing a top/jumper with a hood. This passenger might be either sitting or standing. At the time of the braking incident, one sees the head of this person move out of shot towards the front of the bus and then back into shot. It is not clear what caused this movement. One can also see that certain small items on the floor of the aisle of the bus appear to scatter forward a short distance as the bus brakes. In addition, a can which is on its side in the luggage rack also rolls forward. It would be difficult to infer much from the movement of these unrestrained light items, as they would, in the normal course, shift back and forward on a bus as it travels. Finally, a careful viewing of the CCTV footage also appears to show that the yellow grab handles hanging from the bus's ceiling move slightly forward and back at the time of the braking incident. These grab handles are usually quite stiff, fixed items and this may therefore be of more significance.


No other passenger on the bus was injured. Neither did the plaintiff, nor any other passenger, make a complaint to the driver about this incident on disembarking. The plaintiff's initiating letter was sent by her solicitors to the defendant a reasonably short time after the incident on 8thApril, 2014.

Plaintiff's evidence

The plaintiff was a mother of two young children living with her own mother. The plaintiff stated that she had previously been diagnosed with Crohns disease but that, at the time of these events, this was well controlled and her health was good. The plaintiff had been working part time for two years as a clerical assistant pursuant to a Community Employment Scheme. The plaintiff regularly walked for half an hour from her home into town and back again carrying messages. She also assisted her mother with household chores. She was, she stated, very active and constantly on the go.


The plaintiff's evidence is that this incident occurred because, as the bus driver negotiated the junction, he was not looking at the road but was rather looking down counting coins from the change dispensing machine to his left. The plaintiff's evidence is that as a result of this sudden braking, her torso was jolted suddenly forwards and backwards and that she had to put her left hand up to the seat in front of her to steady herself. The plaintiff was afraid that the bus would hit the car and this was, she states, a shocking...

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