No Recourse for Subway Slip and Falls
The Maryland Court of Appeals holds that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is entitled to immunity from tort claims arising out of its maintenance decisions.
In an opinion resolving two cases – Tinsley v. WMATA & Hodge v. WMATA – the Court of Appeals ruled that Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”) was immune from suits arising out of injuries to two of its customers. Ms. Tinsley alleged that she was seriously injured when she slipped and fell on a wet floor in a WMATA station. According to Ms. Tinsely’s lawsuit, the floor was wet because it had recently been cleaned by WMATA employees. Ms. Hodge also alleged that she was severely injured when she fell on a wet floor. In Ms. Hodge’s case, the floor was wet because other passengers had tracked snow into the station, which subsequently melted on the train platform.
The Court explained that WMATA was created by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact (“the Compact”), an agreement entered into between Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia creating a public transportation system to serve the greater Washington area. WMATA enjoys sovereign immunity as a result of the Compact’s signatories “conferring their respective immunities upon it.” The immunity applies to “governmental functions,” namely those activities involving “an element of choice grounded in public policy.”
The Court held that WMATA’s decisions concerning when to clean the floor were based on economic and policy considerations, because “WMATA employees, in determining when is the best time to clean, are balancing concerns of ensuring safe conditions against not impeding pedestrian traffic, as well as how often to clean, balancing concerns involved in creating a cleaning schedule against WMATA’s budget.” Because the decisions were governmental functions, the WMATA was immune from the claims brought by Tinsley and Hodge.