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Publication: Jerk and Jolt

Publication

Jerk and Jolt

A woman who boarded a bus, walked down the aisle toward a seat, and fell when the bus suddenly accelerated claimed that she was entitled to the benefit of the “jerk‑and‑jolt doctrine” and that she should be compensated by the bus company for her back and neck injuries. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court disagreed.

Passengers injured in public transit must prove negligence in order to recover damages for any injuries they suffer. The “jerk‑and‑jolt doctrine” is an exception to the requirement that a passenger prove negligence. That doctrine provides that a bus passenger can recover damages by simply proving that a jerk or a jolt of the bus occurred that was so “unusual or extraordinary as to be beyond a passenger’s reasonable anticipation” or that the jerk or jolt “had an extraordinarily disturbing effect on other passengers.”

In the case involving the woman who had fallen in the bus aisle, the appellate court noted that she had failed to prove negligence and also failed to qualify under the jerk‑and‑jolt doctrine. No other passengers testified at trial, and no evidence was introduced that any passengers other than the injured woman had been affected at all by the acceleration of the bus. The mere fact that the woman lost her balance and fell, without any other evidence, was insufficient to meet the requirements of the jerk‑and‑jolt doctrine.

Bus passengers can’t simultaneously observe the driver, the traffic, and all the circumstances that can cause sudden movements of a bus. An injured bus passenger who is not able to prove negligence has a limited opportunity to recover damages if he or she can show that the other passengers were “extraordinarily” disturbed by a jerk or jolt of the bus or that the movement was “beyond reasonable expectation.”