OP-ED: Assaults against MTA bus drivers continue to rise

Dec. 19, 2023
Within the past few years, the string of violence against MTA bus drivers has increased significantly, making both drivers and passengers fearful.

Within the past few years, the string of violence against Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) bus drivers has increased significantly. From physical violence to people throwing coffee, to spitting at them, these heinous acts have become a disturbing trend, making both drivers and passengers fearful.  

What is assault? 

Legally, assault is often defined as an intentional act that causes another person to fear an attack or imminent harm. It recognizes that placing another person in fear of bodily harm is itself an act deserving of legal repercussion. 

Historically, assault and battery have been recognized as separate crimes. The act of battery requires the aggressor physically strike or offensively touch the victim. However, modern statutes don’t distinguish between the two. For example, under New York Criminal Law, battery is not a crime on its own but part of the more significant crime of assault. However, civil law recognizes the act of battery and may allow a complainant to recover damages. 

How big of an issue are assaults against bus drivers? 

In 2022, New York state reported a total of 76 assaults against MTA bus employees 1, which is about a 17 percent  increase in assaults against MTA bus employees than reported the year prior (65 assaults reported in 2021).  As of July 2023, there were already 44 assaults reported. On average, about three MTA drivers are assaulted every month and about 19 drivers report getting harassed every week.

What laws protect bus drivers from assaults? 

The laws and regulations protecting bus drivers from acts of violence vary from state to state and even city to city. More than 30 states have laws classifying assault on transit operators as a special category of misdemeanor. Both New York State and New York City have strict laws against assaulting a bus driver.  

In June 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a bill into law that makes attacking an MTA employee a second-degree assault. Prior to the enactment of the law, this penalty was previously limited to train conductors and operators. With this update, protection was extended to customer assistants, ticket or revenue collectors, maintenance workers, repairers, cleaners and their supervisors employed by the MTA. Those who violate the law could face up to seven years in prison.

Workers’ compensation vs personal injury 

In June 2021, New York news outlet The City reported a Brooklyn bus driver was denied workers’ compensation benefits from the MTA for an injury he suffered while trying to protect an elderly Asian couple. The reason why? He was on his coffee break when the incident occurred.  

This incident raises important questions such as: 

  1. What is workers’ compensation?  
  2. How does workers’ comp differ from a personal injury claim?  
  3. Under which circumstances should an injured individual submit a claim for workers’ comp or file a lawsuit against the negligent party? 

In many cases, if the worker was injured while performing workplace duties, he or she may be able to recover financial losses for medical expenses, lost wages and disability coverage by filing a workers’ compensation claim. While laws vary from state to state, in many jurisdictions, a worker may be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of whether the worker or employer was at fault.  

Under New York law, injuries sustained outside of the scope of employment are typically not covered by workers’ compensation. This means if a worker suffers an injury on their commute to or from work or on a lunch break, in most instances, they will not be covered. Workers who are injured on a short break, like a coffee break, fall under a gray area of coverage. Ultimately, the question of whether workers’ compensation applies to injuries suffered during a work break depends highly on the specific facts of each incident. For this reason, it is important injured workers seek the guidance of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney who can review the details of their matter and provide guidance on legal recourse. 

On the other hand, if the injury occurs as the result of a third party’s negligence outside of an employer, a worker may wish to consider pursuing a personal injury lawsuit to recover damages associated with the condition sustained. Damages awarded in personal injury claims are provided to make victims "whole” and can include compensation for medical expenses, lost income, future wages or diminished earning potential, pain and suffering, as well as mental anguish, quality of life loss and other emotional injuries. Those who wish to recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit may wish to seek the guidance of an experienced lawyer who can guide them through the process and provide legal advice based on the matters of their case. 

About the Author

David Perecman | Founder and Lead Trial Attorney of The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.,

David Perecman, founder and lead trial attorney of The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., has dedicated more than 40 years of his life to advocating for personal injury plaintiffs in New York City and Long Island.