Slip and Fall Verdict Reversed: Sovereign Immunity Strikes Again

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals turned back another injured victim under the archaic “Really, do we still have that in 2011?” doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Plaintiff alleged she suffered an ankle injury when she slipped and fell on a wet platform after exiting a train at the Cheverly Metro station in Prince George County. The defendant, the beloved Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, made all the usual – and appropriate defenses. You knew the platform was wet, didn’t you? You even saw a yellow warning cone that the platform was wet, right? No one appeared to have mopped the floor to make it wet, did they?wmata-metro-logo

Plaintiff’s lawyers got creative and did some research. They found out that WMATA used a cleaning agent “Super Shine-All” to clean its train platforms. The coefficient of friction on the floor, plaintiff argued, was such that no one should have been surprised that the woman would fall. In a trial before Judge Maureen M. Lamasney, a Prince George’s County jury agreed and awarded damages (I’m not sure how much).

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed. Apparently, sovereign immunity bars plaintiff’s claim because Maryland is a party to something called the WMATA Compact — along with Virginia, and the District of Columbia — that confers sovereign immunities upon WMATA. Really? Why? Who made that call and what did Maryland get in exchange for compromising the rights of our citizens to seek justice when someone negligent hurts them? (Maybe it was a condition of getting the deal done 45 years ago to get the WMATA into Maryland. I don’t know.)

The court goes into a lot of analysis of whether the discretionary function exception applies to this case. I would explain my understanding of it but it is painfully boring and you will likely never have to deal with it in your legal career (and I might screw up the explanation because I’ve never dealt with it before).

You can read the entire opinion here.

Posted in:
  • Sherley

    You’ve never dealt with discretionary function? It’s a factor in almost any FTCA case. And WMATA’s immunity from suit because of the Compact is just regular old soveriegn immunity which looks like swiss cheese thanks to the Md Tort Claims Act and any number of other statutory and equitable rights to sue the State. Seems like counsel in this case just got a little too cute in their theory of liability, and it backfired.

  • Ron Miller

    We really don’t handle FTCA cases. It is another unfair statute to injury victims by not letting them pay what the free market bears by reducing attorneys’ fees. It is a great statute if you can still find a lawyer but a lot of worthy victims get passed over because it is difficult in all but the very best cases. This is particuarly true if there is a fee splitting referring lawyer situation.

Contact Information