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Santiago v. First Student, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff alleged that in 1997, when she was in the eighth grade and being transported one of Defendant’s school busses, it collided with a car.  As a result of the collision, plaintiff claimed that the right side of her face hit the seat in front of her and she was injured.  She sued Defendant for negligence.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the Defendant and judgment was affirmed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When actions of a passenger that interfere with the driver’s safe operation of the motor vehicle are foreseeable, the failure to prevent such conduct may be a breach of the driver’s duty to his passengers or the public.

    Facts. Plaintiff alleged that in 1997 she was in the eighth grade and being transported one of Defendant’s school busses.  She claimed that the bus was approaching a stop sign and that she jerked forward when the bus driver applied the brakes and the bus collided with the car.  As a result of the collision, plaintiff claimed that the right side of her face hit the seat in front of her and she was injured.  There was no police report, plaintiff did not see the collision, nor could plaintiff identify the street or intersection where the alleged collision occurred.  She sued the Defendant bus company for negligence.

    Issue. Whether a finding of negligence can be premised on mere conclusory allegations of negligent conduct.

    Held. No.  Plaintiff was unable to describe any actions on the part of the driver of the unidentified car or the unidentified bus driver relating to the accident.  Plaintiff could recall no details of the collision nor could she offer any witnesses who could.  The plaintiff attempted to justify a lack of evidence to support her case by pointing to the nature of the accident.  However, the fact that the plaintiff’s case may be extremely difficult to prove does not relieve her of the burden of presenting sufficient evidence to demonstrate the existence of a material question of fact. The court found that to assign negligence to the Defendant based on the limited evidence on the record would impermissibly cross the line from reasonable inference and venture into the realm of rank speculation.  Because the plaintiff could not meet that burden in this case, the defendant was entitled to summary judgment.

    Discussion. A plaintiff must prove each element of a civil case by the preponderance of the evidence.  Accordingly, a defendant’s negligence must be shown to be more probable than not.  The trier of fact must reasonably believe that the probability of negligence exceeds one-half.  Mere conclusory allegations are not enough to prove negligent conduct.


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