Common Carriers And The Pennsylvania “Jerk And Jolt” Doctrine

For 110 years, Powell Law has represented Pennsylvanians who have suffered injuries as passengers on public transportation, predominantly buses and trains. According to Pennsylvania law, these “common carriers” “must use the “highest standard of care in operating its vehicle and maintaining its equipment and facilities and transporting its passengers.” Despite this high standard of care, accidents involving common carriers still regularly happen. Powell Law offers experienced and knowledgeable legal assistance to injured riders and users of public transportation.

A Pennsylvania legal doctrine that comes into play during cases involving personal injury, negligence, and common carriers is the “jerk and jolt” doctrine. The rule applies to common carriers in those instances where no collision occurs, but the alleged negligentCommon Carriers And The Pennsylvania "Jerk And Jolt" Doctrine action which causes injury is a jerk or jolt movement of the bus or train. Pursuant to this doctrine, when a plaintiff-passenger is injured he must show that the movement of the vehicle was beyond his reasonable anticipation, and some unusual movement existed which made the jolt or jerk unusual.

Since 1911, when Powell Law was celebrating its fifth anniversary, Pennsylvania courts have held that common carriers must operate in such a manner to not suddenly and without warning “jerk” or “jolt” passengers. “Under normal circumstances, with the car under proper control, when it is brought to a stop by a motorman, it [must not be] done so abruptly as to injure a passenger, by throwing him forward against the seat in front of him.” Tilton v. Philadelphia Rapid Transit, 231 Pa. 63, 65, 79 A. 877, 877 (1911). The event which caused injury in the Tilton case could only have been caused by an extraordinary jolt or jerk. Endicott v. Phila. Rapid Transit Co. 318 Pa. 12 (Pa. 1935).

In Bost-Pearson v. Southeastern PA Transportation Authority, 118 A.3d 472 (2015), the Commonwealth Court affirmed the Court of Common Pleas dismissing a claim against SEPTA, stating that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the “jerk and jolt” doctrine. It held that the plaintiff did not introduce any additional facts and circumstances to demonstrate that the movement of the vehicle was so extraordinary and unusual as to be beyond the passenger’s reasonable anticipation.

As the Bost-Pearson case demonstrates, the Pennsylvania “jerk” and “jolt” doctrine is often a problematic rule requiring a personal injury attorney experienced in successfully introducing the requisite evidence to meet its threshold and successfully prove negligence to receive an award of damages. If you use any form of public transportation in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and have suffered an injury, contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE. You don’t pay unless we win.

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