SF Municipal (Muni) Railway System: Legal Expert Explains Liability Issues

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The San Francisco Municipal (Muni) Railway public transportation system operates within the City and County of San Francisco California. It is a common carrier, which means that it has a very high duty to keep passengers safe on its light rail vehicles, bus system, trolleys and streetcars. It’s a duty that is often breached – leaving injured victims looking for a way to be compensated after an accident. Our legal expert explains the liability issues surrounding lawsuits against Muni.

California Attorney J. Niley Dorit

J. Niley Dorit, a California attorney whose practice represents those injured by the San Francisco Municipal (Muni) Railway System says that system consists of the famous cable cars that everybody knows about. It also has light rail vehicles, an extensive bus system, trolleys and streetcars and serves approximately 200 million riders annually.

While there is also a dovetailing between the Bay Area Rapid Transit, which is BART, a system that runs through some of the nine San Francisco Bay Area counties and overlaps with the San Francisco Municipal Railway System, Dorit says that while they share some service within the city, they’re actually two different entities.

Common Muni accidents

Some of the most common Muni accidents, which are frequently not reported, are sudden stops where a passenger falls inside of one of the transit vehicles, according to Dorit, who says that the most serious accidents tend to be cable car brake failure or light rail vehicles on a fixed track hitting a pedestrian and cases involving bus drivers who hit other cars or pedestrians as well. He told us:

Unfortunately, we’ve had two pretty serious incidents recently. In one case, a light rail vehicle rear-ended another light rail vehicle at full speed which resulted in 40 to 50 injuries – some of them quite serious. A few weeks ago, we also had an incident where two Muni vehicles basically sandwiched a car in between them and crushed it. So, there are occasionally accidents between one Municipal vehicle and another Municipal vehicle. However, for the most part the accidents involve Muni vehicle hitting a pedestrian or another car.

Muni is a common carrier

We asked Dorit the significance of Muni being a common carrier. He told us that a common carrier is a special class of vehicles in California law and provided the following information:

If you’re a passenger on a common carrier who’s paying to ride, there is a much stricter level of care that the Municipal Railway system owes to its passengers than other parties to civil negligence actions owe to each other. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of automatic liability or insurance, but it’s very close. They have a very, very high duty of care to keep passengers safe.

Essentially, the Municipal Railway system has to take all available measures to provide safe transit for any of its riders. I want to distinguish that we’re talking about riders or passengers, not pedestrians or other vehicles in the street. They have a very special relationship and duty to passengers. So when a person gets on a cable car, for example, Muni has to provide them with safe transit.

Damages available to injured victims

The damages that are available to injured victims consist of lost income, medical expenses and pain/suffering. Dorit explained:

If there is an impact to a person’s quality of life, which we can call pain and suffering, it can range anywhere from a minor injury up to a catastrophic injury where a person really has no quality of life or a greatly diminished quality of life if they’re in a coma, a vegetative state or paralyzed.

The other category is for lost income or the lost ability to earn an income, lost potential ability to earn an income. Finally, an injured person has the right to claim past and future medical expenses. In catastrophic cases where there will be substantial future hospitalizations and daily home health care services, those costs can also be recoverable against Muni.

If you’ve been injured by a Muni vehicle, contact an experienced California train injury attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. However, you must do so quickly as the statute of limitations is only six months.

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