Maryland Court of Appeals Bails Out Metro
Category : Slip and Fall
In December 2007, Veronica Tinsley exited a Metro train at Cheverly, slipped on a wet platform, fell to the ground and fractured her ankle. In February 2010, Kim Hodge slipped on a wet floor at Prince George’s County Plaza Metro, fell to the ground and was badly injured. They both filed slip and fall lawsuits against Metro. In October, 2012, both cases were thrown out by the Court of Appeals for a reason that would make the Queen of England smile and a Maryland citizen gasp with disbelief -sovereign immunity.
Sovereign immunity is a legal principle that has its roots in ancient English law and is based upon the idea of the King’s supremacy over ordinary citizens (“the King can do no wrong”). Instead of casting aside this legal relic when the United States gained independence from England, individual states retained the principle and now use it to defeat meritorious claims of their own citizens.
The Metro system is controlled by WMATA, an authority established by Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia under an interstate agreement. This agreement gives WMATA immunity (yes, the same sovereign immunity enjoyed by English monarchs) for policy decisions known as “governmental functions”. If this seems bizarre to you as a reader, it is not hard to imagine the thoughts of a person who slips and falls on a pool of water at a Metro station, sustains serious and painful injuries, incurs medical expenses and loses time from work, only to find that there is no legal remedy. The evidence showed that WMATA’s policy regarding water on Metro station floors was to place warning signs and allow the water to evaporate. WMATA claimed that this ingenious evaporation solution was based on policy and economics, which are “governmental functions”. The Court of Appeals agreed and decided that WMATA’s decision to leave dangerous pools of water on the platforms and hallways of Metro stations is indeed a “governmental function” and that WMATA is entitled to the same protection from being sued as the English monarch – sovereign immunity. Both claims were dismissed out of hand.
For consumers, the riders on Metro, this is doubly bad. Firstly, they cannot recover compensation for many severe injuries sustained while using the Metro system. Secondly, Metro itself is less responsible, knowing that it cannot be held to account for hazardous conditions at Metro stations created as a result of such policy decisions. No wonder the Queen of England is smiling in amazement.