The plaintiff was a commuter at a train station who had rushed towards the open doors of a train as they were closing, attempting to get in.
As the plaintiff reached the edge of the platform beyond the yellow line, the doors closed in front of her. The straps of her handbag were caught in the door and she attempted to tug the handbag free, to no avail.
As the plaintiff remained holding onto the strap of her handbag, the guard whistle blew and the train begun to depart the station. The plaintiff, on the very edge of the platform, then fell between the train and the platform from the propulsion, and sustained catastrophic injuries.
The defendant train operator disputed liability on the basis that they had a proper system of checks and balances in place, to mitigate against the risk of injury of commuters rushing towards closed doors. Further, that they had acted appropriately in compliance with that system in the circumstances.
The defendant also alleged contributory negligence at 100%, alleging the plaintiff was heavily intoxicated at the time, causing her to stumble and fall. Further, that the plaintiff failed to take reasonable care for her own safety at the time of the event.
The plaintiff was successful at trial with contributory negligence held at one third.
The court was satisfied that the persons in charge of the train’s movement were properly trained and instructed, and that there was a system in place to ensure the safety of rail customers within the confines of what the defendant needed to do. That is, to get passengers on and off the trains and to move the trains in accordance with the timetable.
In the circumstances, it was the procedure that trains were still permitted to depart the station even though commuters may be beyond the yellow line, if the guard was satisfied that the commuters were not at risk of injury from the train departing.
It was held that the occurrence of the injury itself meant that the defendant did not comply with its own system. That is, the guard on duty permitted the train to depart in circumstances where the plaintiff, on the very edge of the platform and holding onto the handbag strap, was in a plainly precarious and very dangerous position. This took place without first ensuring the plaintiff had moved away from the dangerous position.
The defendant was unable to persuade the court that the plaintiff was intoxicated at the time, there being a lack of evidence. The plaintiff was held to be one third contributorily negligent for voluntarily placing herself in the dangerous situation.
This compensation law casenote appears courtesy of Travis Schultz & Partners (TSP), where the author, James Leggo, is an Associate. As part of the firm’s commitment to providing ongoing legal education, TSP practitioners review relevant judgments and prepare case summaries for the legal profession. A free searchable catalogue of compensation law casenotes is available at schultzlaw.com.au/case-summaries (registration required). The full version of the judgments can be found at austlii.edu.au.