Of Counsel Lori Sebransky and Partner Kimberly Chin Prevail in Common Carrier Case before California Court of Appeal with Published Decision

In Churchman v. Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG16829239, Plaintiff Alice Churchman (“Plaintiff’) attempted to board a train operated by the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (“BART”) at the San Francisco International Airport Station. She bought a ticket, passed through the fare gates, and went to the platform to board a Pittsburg/Bay Point train. She claimed she attempted to follow directions and instructions given over a public announcement system but alleged they were partially inaudible and confusing. She further alleged that the conflicting instructions and opening and closing of doors on opposite side of the cars caused confusion, leading to abrupt turns and movement by passengers attempting to board the train. Due to this movement and the abrupt shutting of car doors, she lost her balance while maneuvering her suitcase, resulting in personal injuries.

Plaintiff filed suit against BART, alleging BART was responsible for her injuries because it violated its common carrier duty of care, pursuant to Civil Code sections 2100-2103, to furnish safe equipment, premises, and a safe place for boarding. BART demurred to Plaintiff’s complaint twice, arguing that common carrier liability did not apply because Plaintiff’s injury occurred on the station platform, before boarding the train. The trial court sustained both demurrers, finding that where the plaintiff is on the platform waiting to board the car, only an ordinary duty of care applied. On the last demurrer, the trial court sustained without leave to amend and dismissed Plaintiff’s lawsuit. Plaintiff appealed.

In a published decision, the First District Court of Appeal unanimously determined that the heightened duty of care under Civil Code section 2100 did not apply to “minor, commonplace hazards in a train station.” In particular, the Court affirmed that Civil Code section 2100 did not extend to injuries caused by “ordinary risks of a busy train platform” such as crowds of people moving in multiple directions, noise, partially inaudible announcements on the public address system, and train doors abruptly opening and closing as passengers board and disembark. As such, the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

Kimberly Chin briefed and argued the demurrers in the trial court. Lori Sebransky and Ms. Chin handled the appellate briefing with Ms. Sebransky arguing the appeal on behalf of BART.

For further information about this case, please contact Kimberly Chin.