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Can You Sue Metro for a Slip and Fall Accident on a Train Platform?

Thousands of Maryland and D.C. residents rely on Metro every day to get around the region for work and other purposes. Metro itself is run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), an interstate compact between Maryland, D.C., and Virginia. As such, Metro enjoys a certain degree of “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits.

But sovereign immunity is not absolute. Typically, the law makes exceptions for personal injury claims involving a “proprietary function” as opposed to a “governmental function.” In plain terms, this means you can sue the government for negligence that causes personal injury, but not when it involves the exercise of a “discretionary function” that requires some sort of policy judgment.

D.C. Court of Appeals Rejects WMATA’s Sovereign Immunity Defense

The D.C. Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in the context of a slip-and-fall lawsuit against Metro. The plaintiff in this case, WMATA v. Nash-Flegler, was exiting a Metro train at a D.C. station when he slipped and fell on the platform. The plaintiff subsequently sued the WMATA, alleging his fall was caused by ice on the platform and, more specifically, Metro’s “failure to properly warn passengers” of the hazardous condition.

In D.C. Superior Court, the WMATA moved for summary judgment on sovereign immunity grounds. The judge denied that motion. WMATA then sought an immediate appeal on this point. The Court of Appeals agreed that Metro was entitled to appeal the denial of summary judgment at this stage of the litigation. Nevertheless, the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.

The Court of Appeals noted that WMATA’s claim of sovereign immunity was based on its assertion that the plaintiff’s claims involved the exercise of a “discretionary function.” This requires proof that the allegedly negligent act involved some exercise of “political, social, or economic judgment.”

Here, the trial court found there was no evidence of such judgment. Indeed, the issue here involved a WMATA employee’s “decision to place only a single cone on the Metro platform,” and whether that provided sufficient warning to passengers that the train platform was icy. The WMATA argued the employee’s actions still constituted a “policy judgment” protected by sovereign immunity.

The Court of Appeals said that “paints with too broad a brush.” To the contrary:

The decision to place a single warning cone on the Metro platform–as opposed to, say, many cones, or broadcasting a warning message to deboarding passengers–is not a decision that by its nature is so fraught with policy considerations as to bring it within sovereign immunity’s protections.”

To be clear, the Court of Appeals did not address whether the WMATA should be held liable for the plaintiff’s accident. That issue still needs to be resolved at trial. But the agency was not entitled to dismiss the case on sovereign immunity grounds due to insufficient evidence there were any “policy” issues involved.

Contact Waldorf Personal Injury Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 870-1200.