Court orders new jury to review $1.8M award in bus attack
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Transit may not be solely responsible for a $1.8 million jury award to a woman injured when a fellow bus passenger hit her with a bottle, a court has ruled.
A state appeals court ruled this week that liability also should have been shared by the passenger who threw the bottle. But it declined to change the amount of the award, rejecting NJ Transit’s argument that it can’t be liable under the higher standards governing common carriers.
NJ Transit didn’t comment on the case Friday, citing the pending litigation.
K. Raja Bhattacharya, an attorney for plaintiff Anasia Maison, said the ruling “is a victory for all New Jersey Transit riders as it requires New Jersey Transit to provide a heightened duty of care to its passengers as a common carrier.”
The attack occurred on a bus passing through Newark in 2013. A group of young men began harassing Maison, who moved her seat after one of the men displayed a knife.
As the men got off the bus, one of them threw a liquor bottle that hit her in the head, causing wounds that required 22 stitches.
Maison sued New Jersey Transit and driver Kelvin Coats, claiming they failed in their duty to keep passengers safe. Maison didn’t name the attacker, who remains unidentified, as a defendant.
Coats said he believed the confrontation had been defused after Maison changed seats and opted not to call police, stop the bus or ask the men to get off.
After a two-day trial, a jury awarded Maison $1.8 million, concluding that the defendants’ failure to “exercise a high degree of care” led to her injuries.
NJ Transit appealed on several grounds, including that the bottle thrower should have been listed as a defendant, even though he wasn’t identified.
Citing case law, the appeals court agreed Wednesday, noting that other courts have ruled that the state’s Comparative Negligence Act requires a jury to allocate liability “based on the evidence — not based on the collectability or non-collectability” of a defendant’s share of the damages.
The appeals court allowed the amount of the award to remain intact but sent the case back for a new jury to consider how to divide liability.