Viola player sues in Chicago over bus damage to her instrument

Viola player sues in Chicago over bus damage to her instrument


norman lebrecht

January 25, 2014

It’s not just airlines…

chicago bus



Chicago, IL – A Cook County court Friday ruled that Katharine Dayner’s case against the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), stemming from an incident in which her valuable viola was crushed by a CTA articulated bus, should proceed to trial. The court, denying the CTA’s attempt to obtain summary judgment, rejected the CTA’s effort to evade legal responsibility for Ms. Dayner’s loss.

On April 29, 2012, Ms. Dayner, an accomplished professional musician, was riding the #6 CTA bus from Hyde Park to downtown. She was carrying her viola, which had been crafted by the noted instrument maker William Whedbee and was worth $15,000 at the time. She was seated in the middle, “turntable” section of the articulated bus.

As the bus approached downtown, Ms. Dayner moved her viola case to her side to let another passenger pass. At that moment, the bus turned a corner; the turntable floor rotated; and Ms. Dayner’s viola case, with her arm around it, became pinned between the side of the bus and the metal arm rail of her seat. Although she was (just) able to free her arm, the viola case remained pinned. As the bus continued its turn, the case was crushed, and the viola heavily damaged.

“I was devastated,” said Ms. Dayner. “To a professional string player, an instrument is far more than a tool – it is an extension of who we are. My Whedbee viola was like a family member to me. When I opened the case and saw that the top had been split in half, I couldn’t stop crying.”

Although an entirely new top had to be made, Ms. Dayner continued, “it’s just not the same. It feels and sounds totally different. The viola I knew and loved is gone.”

Between repair costs, the diminished value of the viola, and other expenses, Ms. Dayner’s loss quickly approached $10,000. Yet despite submitting a wealth of documentation to the CTA’s claims department – including two written statements from witnesses, photographs of the damage, receipts, and opinions from fine instrument experts – the CTA offered only a fraction of that amount.

“This has been incredibly frustrating,” said Ms. Dayner. “I did everything I was supposed to do, and the CTA kept coming up with excuses to avoid paying anything. At one point, they even claimed it was my fault!”

Forced to engage an attorney, she hired Kevin Case, of firm Case Arts Law LLC, to file suit in Cook County court. … “I’m gratified that the court saw through the CTA’s attempts to evade liability,” said Case. “Obviously, the CTA is responsible for what happened to Ms. Dayner on one of its own buses. We’re confident that a jury will see it the same way.”


  • Anon says:

    Bizarre. It’s an unfortunate accident, but you can’t really hold the bus driver or bus company responsible for the bus making a turn where it presumably needed to on the road. I feel sorry for Ms. Dayner and her viola, but I don’t understand why she thinks the bus company are somehow liable for her putting the viola in a place where it could be trapped, and was. Is this not what her own insurance is for?

    • Prewartreasure says:

      Couldn’t agree more, but don’t forget that America is ‘the land of the free’ (loading lawyers)

    • Greg Von Notias says:

      From the description the bus could have broken her arm also. I don’t think that on the inside of a bus you should have the chance to get your body broken buy the bus performing as it is intended to. Perhaps this case will help lead the way to safer buses.

    • Stuard Young says:

      What would the CTA have said if her arm had been crushed? Seems to me the CTA is at fault, for allowing passengers to sit in an unsafe area of the bus!

  • Peter says:

    If the bus can trap a passengers arm and potentially cause injury, then there is an safety issue and design flaw and either the bus company or the maker is responsible. I imagine she may get compensation for her arm more readily than her viola.

  • Malcolm James says:

    This is not the first time H&S issues have arisen in respect of public transport in Chicago. compared to this Ms Dayner got off very lightly.

  • David Wetherill says:

    The uncharitable nature of the comments is appalling and nasty. The passenger has a right to be safe on the bus and the bus company has a legal responsibility to make this the case. They just hope she’ll go away if they ignore, deny and delay.

    Keep on fighting, Ms. Dayner!

  • Gabriela says:

    I hear some false dilemmas here. It’s not that the bus shouldn’t have turned when it needed to. Or that Dayner shouldn’t have been where she was in the bus. Or that Dayner, by sitting in a seat on the bus turntable, did the equivalent of lying down on the street in front of the bus. If the seat was empty and there was no indication/signage that it was unsafe, then the bus company and/or bus manufacturer has a duty to keep safe the passengers riding in that seat. The only way that a bus company can avoid being responsible for the damage to the viola is if it had no reasonable expectation that people would bring items worth $15,000 on board, which it clearly cannot claim. And that’s not even a large amount of money. AND, if Dayner gets the $10,000, that’s not enough to bring back what her viola was, as it does not sound the way it once did. (For example, when a defendant pays medical bills for causing brain damage, the plaintiff STILL HAS BRAIN DAMAGE when it’s all over.) It appears that Dayner isn’t even suing for the replacement cost of her instrument, just what it cost to bring it to less than pre-accident function.

  • marguerite foxon says:

    I agree a passenger has the right to be safe, but I think holding the company responsible for her viola’s unfortunate destruction is a bit rich.

  • Jeff S says:

    Engineers are hired by bus designers to ensure that no injuries related to the bus design can occur. They clearly missed the mark by not trying out different “what if” situations at the initial design level. I would suggest that the bus manufacturer is at fault, not the bus company which assumed that the bus had been designed properly.