Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County; Sachse, J.
Brune, C. J., and Hammond, Prescott, Horney and Sybert, JJ. Prescott, J., delivered the opinion of the Court.
Appellants are a minor, suing for injuries suffered while a passenger on a contract-carrier's school bus, and her father, suing to recover for her medical expenses.
Appellants concede that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur has no application here; hence the only question involved is whether there was sufficient evidence of primary negligence on the part of defendant or its driver to take the case to the jury.
We must, therefore, examine the evidence adduced in a light most favorable to appellants and give them the benefit of all reasonable and permissible inferences to be drawn therefrom.
Appellants produced testimony to the following effect. The minor, a female aged 16, was a student at a public school, and rode a school bus to and from school. Appellee is a contract carrier, and was the owner of the bus in which the minor was riding when injured. She boarded the bus at Glen Burnie, and it, preceded by two other buses, proceeded toward her home. After proceeding quite a few miles, during which stops had been made by all three of the buses without incident, the first and second buses stopped, and appellee's bus ran into the rear of the second, injuring the minor. The highway, at the point of collision, was a rather narrow, secondary one, but relatively straight.
Lt. Bates and Officer Fertitta arrived at the scene shortly after the collision. They examined the brakes on appellee's bus, and Bates found the brake pedal to be "hard and firm." He stated that he found the foot brake to be in operating order, and, although he could not "say for sure," he thought it was in "reasonably good condition."
Fertitta testified that the operator of the bus, at the scene, told him that his brakes failed to hold, and, even though he placed the bus in low gear to slow down, it struck the bus in front of him; that the bus left no skid marks; and that he knew nothing about the braking system of the kind on the bus, but "the brake pedal seemed to have free play." He stated further that when he tested the foot brake, the motor was off, and he knew "the motor had to be running for the vacuum to work, but not for the hydraulic system."
The appellants then called the service manager for the Hoffman Truck Center, a man of twenty years' experience in the repairing and maintenance of heavy-duty trucks and buses. He explained in detail the hydrovac system of braking. He examined appellee's vehicle; the "hard pedal" indicated to him that the hydrovac or the check valve in it was faulty. He stated that the hydrovac magnifies "many, many times" the pressure of the brake fluid, and without it, there would not be sufficient pressure on the brake shoes to stop the bus. When the engine
is not running, or the hydrovac is not operating correctly, there is a "hard pedal, just like pushing against a stone wall." On the other hand, when the engine is running and the hydrovac operating properly, there is a "soft pedal."
The hydrovac sustained no damage to its exterior casing, and the witness found no leaks of brake fluid. He tested the suspected hydrovac unit by removing it from the bus, and installing it in another bus of the same kind. By this method, he "proved that it was defective." He found that the check valve was inoperative, which could mean that the valve was defective, or dirt or some foreign material had gotten into it. The witness pointed out that the unit did not require regular inspection or maintenance, and there was no way of ascertaining a defect "prior to actual failure." He stated that ...