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LINDA GOODWIN (JONES) v. GULF TRANSPORT COMPANY

AUGUST 08, 1984

LINDA GOODWIN (JONES)
v.
GULF TRANSPORT COMPANY



BEFORE ROY NOBLE LEE, P.J., ROBERTSON, AND SULLIVAN, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT:

This appeal arises from a personal injury action brought by a passenger against a bus company. The passenger claims that, while exiting the bus, she stepped on a slippery substance, fell and was hurt. The trial court held that the passenger failed to prove the bus company's actual or constructive knowledge of the slippery substance and directed a verdict against the passenger. We affirm.

On June 30, 1976, Linda Goodwin (Jones) was a passenger for hire on a Gulf Transport Company bus heading for Pascagoula, Jackson County, Mississippi. En route she developed a toothache and asked the driver if she could get off the bus in Lucedale to get some aspirin. When the bus reached Lucedale, the driver got off. Shortly thereafter Goodwin alighted, slipped and fell.

 Exiting the bus involves walking down three steps. Goodwin attempted to negotiate these steps but when her foot reached the second she encountered a red liquid and fell, sustaining the injuries complained of here.

 No evidence adduced at trial explained what the red liquid was, how it got on the step or how long it had been there. There was certainly no evidence that it was put there by anyone associated with Gulf Transport. Goodwin further failed to show that anyone associated with the bus company - the bus driver in particular - had notice of the liquid. The evidence was equivocal as to whether other people had used the steps of the bus during the time between the bus driver's exit and Goodwin's fall.

 Gulf Transport Company is a carrier of passengers for hire. As such it is required to exercise the highest degree of care and diligence for the safety of its passengers. On the other hand, Gulf Transport does not by virtue of its contract of carriage or of the positive law of the state, become an insurer of its passengers' safety. It may be held liable for personal injuries only where those have been caused by the carrier's failure to exercise this highest degree of care.

 Goodwin concedes that she bears the burden of proof on the liability phase of the case. She insists, however, that because Gulf Transport is a common carrier, all she need show to establish a prima facie case, and thus avoid a directed

 verdict, is that: (1) she was a passenger on the Gulf Transport vehicle; (2) the accident occurred; and (3) she was injured. Such proof Goodwin contends creates a presumption of negligence, albeit one rebuttable. In support she cites Stokes v. Saltonstall, 38 U.S. (13 Pet.) 181, 192-193, 10 L.Ed. 115 (1839), which being on a point of common law is hardly binding here.

 We have cases which discuss a presumption of the sort urged by Goodwin, but we do not read these cases to announce a general rule. They involve railroads and refer to a presumption derived from a specific statute originally enacted in 1880 and amended and recodified periodically up to its present form in Miss. Code Ann. 13-1-119 (1972) which announces that

 "Injury inflicted by the running of the locomotive or cars of such company shall be prima facie evidence of want of reasonable skill and care."

 This statute yields Goodwin no advantage because this railroad presumption has never been applied to other types of carriers, see Tri-State Transit Co. v. Mondy, 194 Miss. 714, 725-26, 12 So. 2d 920, 922 (1943) (bus was carrier and applicability of statute was denied), nor from its terms or its history is there any basis for inferring an application to carriers other than railroads. Chicago, St.L. & N.O. R.R. Co. v. Trotter, 60 Miss. 442, 446 (1882). Regarding injuries on public buses, "[t]he burden of proof is upon plaintiff to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was guilty of negligence." Gates v. Greyhound Corp., 197 F. Supp. 341, 344-45 (S.D. Miss. 1960).

 The upshot of all this is that Goodwin was too optimistic in her reliance upon Saltonstall. In Mississippi, the presumption of negligence is applicable only to railroads, and further, the presumption appears to yield no greater advantage than does the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. There are, therefore, no special presumptions relating to common carriers such as buses that Goodwin may invoke so as to alleviate her burden of going forward with proof of negligence.

 Mississippi is not alone in its refusal to create any presumption of negligence of the sort urged by Goodwin here. Suffice it to note a general statement of the rule found throughout the country as articulated in Annotation, Liability of Motor Carrier to Passenger Injured from Fall because of Litter, Debris, or Object on Floor of Bus, 74 A.L.R.2d 1336 (1960), to wit:

 "The courts have agreed, in the few cases in which the point has been discussed, that no presumption of negligence on the part of a bus company arises from the mere fact that a passenger fell on litter, debris, or an object on the floor of the bus, but rather have held that it is incumbent on the plaintiff to ...


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