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Subway Door Injury and Contributory Negligence

If you have ever been a regular subway rider during rush hour in New York, Chicago, or any other city, you probably have witnessed this same scenario played out repeatedly. The subway train is in the station.  The doors are about to close.  Passengers run through the turnstiles, across the platform trying to board the train before the doors close.  Inevitably, a few passengers attempt to board the train just as the doors are closing resulting in an arm, leg, or other parts of the body being caught between the doors as they are closing.  The doors reopen and the passenger is able to pull the rest of his or her body into the train.  A big risk, but successful, nonetheless.

Georgette Victor

72-year-old Georgette Victor was involved in a similar subway incident, resulting in serious injuries.  On October 21, 2008, Victor was on a #7 subway train in New York.  The conductor announced that the train was an express train and not a local train, realizing she was on the incorrect train,Victor stood up to get off the train.  As she started to exit the train, the doors closed on her, knocking her down and Victor broke her hip in the fall.

Victor filed a personal injury lawsuit against  the New York City Transit Authority.  Her injury was severe enough that it required surgery and she testified that as a result of the injury, her lifestyle has changed.  Victor stated that she could no longer be as active as she was prior to the accident, including being unable to regularly visit Manhattan to visit museums, attend cultural events, and attend lectures.  Despite her hardships, Victor was awarded $850,000.

Contributory Negligence

While the lawsuit settled in Ms. Victor’s favor, was she contributorily negligent?  If a passenger attempts to enter or leave a train when the doors are about to close, isn’t that passenger at least partly responsible for an injury that results?  In some cases passengers purposely stick their bodies in between closing subway doors in order to make sure that the does re-open.  In other cases the passenger believes that he or she will be quick enough to get through the doors before they close.  In either case the passenger risks that the doors will close on him and her.  When this happens, it is reasonable that an injury may result.

While the passengers are always taking a risk, the transit authority should not escape blame.  In the Victor case, the court concluded that the conductor closed the doors too quickly, implying that if Victor had known the doors were going to close so quickly she would not have attempted to exit.  If an employee fails to follow safety rules and procedures, or if such rules are found to be inadequate, then the transit authority should at least share liability.  Depending on the comparative negligence rules of the jurisdiction, the result would be that the plaintiff would not receive a damage award or would receive a reduced award.  If this was applied in the Victor case, because New York is a pure comparative negligence state, Victor’s award would be reduced based on her relative degree of negligence.  For example, if the court found that the injury was 60% the fault of the transit authority and 40% Victor’s fault, then her award would be reduced by 40%.

Do you think that the outcome of the Victor case would have been different if the conductor did not close the doors as quickly, but Victor still sustained the hip fracture due to the doors closing on her?  When individuals are in a hurry, they tend to take less care or notice of personal safety than they otherwise would.  Do you believe that many accidents, that result in personal injury cases, could have been avoided if plaintiffs took the time to be more careful?

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