Court Finds Washington Metro Immune from Claim in Slip and Fall Case

A Maryland appellate court has overturned a verdict awarding $64,000 to a woman who suffered an injury on a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“Metro”) platform. The court found that Metro is entitled to sovereign immunity as a joint agency of the governments of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The decision calls into question the outcome of other pending lawsuits against Metro.

Veronica Tinsley slipped on a wet platform while exiting a train at the Cheverly Station on Metro’s Orange Line in 2007. She fell and broke her ankle as a result. She filed suit against Metro in Maryland state court, arguing that Metro violated its own procedures by mopping the platform during rush hour. She further alleged that Metro failed to post any warnings about the wet platform for riders. These failures breached Metro’s duty of care to its passengers, leading directly to her injuries. A jury found in her favor and awarded her damages.

Metro appealed the decision on the grounds that the doctrine of sovereign immunity precluded any claim for damages. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed with Metro and entered an order in early December overturning the jury verdict and award. The court held that Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia conferred their sovereign immunity protections on Metro when they jointly formed it as a government agency. Congress and the legislatures of Virginia and Maryland passed legislation approving an interstate compact signed by the three governments and authorizing the creation of an entity to manage public transportation across the three jurisdictions. Metro was officially formed in 1967. The interstate compact is the instrument that passed sovereign immunity protection on to Metro.

The doctrine of sovereign immunity generally prohibits suits against the government. It originates from the notion in a constitutional monarchy that the king created the courts and is the source of their authority. As such, the courts have no power to judge the king. The doctrine is practiced slightly differently in the United States today, but the underlying concept remains the same.

Governments may waive sovereign immunity in limited cases, such as in contract disputes. For tort cases such as this one, many states and the federal government have enacted laws that allow claims if the plaintiff first gives notice of the claim and meets various other requirements. The Maryland Tort Claims Act allows claims in certain types of cases but sets a strict limit on the amount of damages.

Metro frequently faces lawsuits from passengers claiming injuries. A Metro spokesperson stated that the ruling in Tinsley’s case fits with precedent in suits against Metro. Advocates for people injured on Metro trains maintain that the agency does not enjoy immunity under all circumstances. This ruling may dissuade others from filing claims against Metro in the future, but the effect it will have on pending cases remains to be seen.

The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to recover their just compensation. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949.

More Blog Posts:

Washington DC Slip and Fall: An Injury Accident that May Be Grounds for a Lawsuit, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 5, 2011
Woman Dies in Washington DC Fall from W Hotel Rooftop, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, June 30, 2011
Washington DC Slip and Fall Accidents Can Cause Hip Injuries, Broken Bones, a Strained Back, and Other Painful Injuries, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 23, 2010

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