September 26, 2022

A commuter who fell between the edge of the platform and a train after thrusting her arm between the closing doors of the carriage she was attempting to board, has won substantial damages for the train accident.

Aluk Chol took her time to get up from her seat at Auburn station in August 2016 as the Guildford train pulled in.

After collecting her shopping bags, the 46-yr-old immigrant from South Sudan approached the doors of the carriage while at the same time, they started to close.

She threw out her right arm between the closing doors but they did not re-open.

The sensors indicated on the train guard’s panel that the doors had safely closed and the guard allowed the train to start to move off.

At the same moment, Aluk was pulled down and fell into the gap – while holding on to her handbag whose strap was still caught between the doors – and was dragged along as the train accelerated away before coming to a stop when the guard raised an emergency alarm.

Her catastrophic injuries included a ruptured bladder; substantial pelvic fractures; spinal fractures; and neural damage to her back and legs.

Aluk filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging that Sydney Trains had an inadequate system in place at the station to ensure that the train did not depart whilst she was in a position of danger.

She also contended that rail staff had seen her approach the carriage doors and allowed it to depart instead of taking steps to ensure that it did not move until she was away from the platform edge or had boarded the train.

The claim came before Justice Richard Cavanagh in the NSW Supreme Court.

A station attendant explained the safety system involving the holding up of a white flag when signalling from the platform that it was safe for the train to move on and a red flag to signal for the train to stop or stay put.

He agreed that a person standing on the white line on the edge of the platform – beyond the yellow line – was in a position of extreme danger warranting the raising of a red flag.

Experts called by each party agreed the train guard would have been able to see that the plaintiff was in contact with the train and could have delayed the departure of the train or reopened the doors which – in either case – would have likely prevented the accident.

The plaintiff identified the risk of harm as being one of a passenger being caught in the closing doors of the train and being injured if it commences to move before he or she is clear of the train.

Given such risk was reasonably foreseeable and not insignificant, the train operator was required to take care in ensuring her safety.

It also emerged that it was common knowledge among rail staff, that from time to time, passengers sought to rush towards trains as the doors closed to squeeze between them.

Justice Cavanagh rejected the defendant’s contention that she had fallen because she was intoxicated or simply lost her balance.

“She fell because the train started to move while her handbag was caught in it [and] was in some way pulled over, leading to her falling between the train platform”.

His honour went on to conclude that an adequate system was in place and that the defendant could not be required to stop its trains every time someone attempted to board late by banging on a carriage door.

He found though that the train guard had mistakenly concluded that the passenger had been moving away from the train when he allowed it to move off.

The system had therefore not been adequately complied with.

“I am satisfied that the plaintiff’s accident was caused by a casual act of negligence on the part of the guard [failing] to ensure that the plaintiff had moved away from the dangerous position that she was in before he allowed the train to move”.

That said, he ruled there had been contributory negligence on the part of the passenger to the extent of 33%.

General damages were assessed for her severe life-long disablement at $400,000. Future care – at 3 hrs every day – was allowed at $800,000 and $187,000 was allowed for the period up to trial. No claim for income loss was made.

The total assessment of $1.76 million was reduced by the contributory negligence finding, to $1.18 million.

Chol v Sydney Trains [2022] NSWSC 1266 Cavanagh J 21 September 2022 Read case

Categories: train accident

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