Leshai Ryals walked out from the rear door of a city bus on University Avenue in the Bronx on January 19, 2004 at about 11:30 a.m., took two steps in the street and then slipped on snow and ice. She broke her ankle and sued claiming that the bus driver was liable because, having failed to pull up to the bus stop (he dropped her off 10 to 15 feet from the curb), he breached his duty to provide her a reasonably safe place to disembark.

Here’s a bus letting passengers off away from the curb but without any snow or ice in the street:

In Ryals v. New York City Transit Authority (Supreme Court, Bronx County, Index # 21244/04) the bus driver claimed that he could not pull up to the bus stop curb because it was blocked by an 18 wheeler milk truck whose operator was making a delivery to the C Town supermarket on the sidewalk.

At the trial in March 2009, the supermarket manager testified that there was space in front of the stop for the bus driver to park and that his employees had shoveled a path for people to get from the curb to the street. Based on that testimony, the trial judge granted plaintiff’s motion for a directed verdict on liability. She ruled that the defendant was fully liable for the accident and therefore there was no need to submit that issue to the jury.

The only questions submitted to the jury were related to damages. They then awarded the 37 year old Ms. Ryals  pain and suffering damages in the sum of $400,000 ($250,000 past – 5 years, $150,000 future – 5 years).

The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial judge should have let the issue of liability be determined by the jury. The appellate court agreed and in Ryals v. New York City Tr. Auth. (1st Dept. 2010), the liability verdict has now been reversed and the matter remanded for a new jury trial on the issue of liability.

In general, trial judges may grant a motion for a directed verdict only when there is no rational process that would lead the jury to find for the non-moving party. In this case, the appellate judges stated that a rational jury could have rendered a defense verdict on liability – they could have found that the bus driver dropped off his passengers at the safest location under the circumstances.

The appeals court did not disturb the $400,000 damages verdict so on retrial that figure will apply to the new liability verdict.

The decision did not, though, mention the injuries sustained by the plaintiff so here are the details:

  • trimalleolar ankle fracture
  • open reduction surgery with internal fixation of syndesmotic screws
  • second surgery to remove the screws
  • unable to work as telecommunications provider’s manager for 3 1/2 months

The ankle joint is a hinge joint that consist of three bones: the tibia, the fibula and the talus.

  1. The bottom (distal) end of the fibula forms the lateral malleolus which is the bump on the outside of the ankle.
  2. The distal end of the tibia forms the medial malleolus which is the bump on the inside of the ankle.
  3. And the posterior malleolus is the back of the tibia at the level of the ankle joint.

When all three malleoli are broken, it’s called a trimalleolar fracture:

The award in this case is in line with sustained awards for pain and suffering in other cases dealing with trimalleolar fractures, such as:

Inside Information:

  • In addition to the transit authority and its driver, the plaintiff originally sued the supermarket on the theory that it bore concurrent responsibility for the accident because its employees were unloading the milk truck that blocked the bus stop. The claims against the supermarket were dismissed well before trial on a motion for summary judgment.
  • There was no dispute at trial as to the general principle that city bus drivers are obligated to provide reasonably safe places for passengers to disembark. Here is PJI 2:166, the basic instruction trial judges give to jurors in such cases.