Last week, on October 26, 2016, around 4:40 P.M., the northbound Orange Line train, while stopped at Back Bay Station in Boston, Massachusetts, began to spew smoke. The train had overheated right before rush hour, and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (“MBTA”) workers asked passengers to evacuate the station. After the initial panic, which caused riders to break windows of the train to escape, five people had to be treated for smoke inhalation.
The northbound orange line began to leave the Back Bay station when the operations center “was called about a report of a propulsion issue.” This issue resulted in visible smoke to riders onboard the train. With the doors to the train closed, people on the train began to break the windows to escape. In a statement, the MBTA explained that the doors to the train had not been malfunctioning. Instead, the doors were closed because the train was moving away from the station. When the issue was discovered, the “motor person had begun promptly opening doors to allow passengers to evacuate safely, away from (the) live third rail.” However, there was no initial announcement over the intercom of what was occurring, which led a lot of scared people to self-evacuate through the windows. As a result of this chaos, five people were treated for injuries at the station, and three passengers had to be taken to the hospital.
In addition to the injuries, passengers were stuck outside of the station and confused about how to get home. The orange line had suspended all services until 5:41 P.M., when the Boston Fire Department allowed the southbound side to resume service. The northbound orange line did not resume service until 6:15 P.M.
While the MBTA stated that “passenger safety is the top priority,” less than 24 hours later, around 9:50 A.M. on October 27, a woman was hit by the Green Line trolley when she attempted to cross the tracks near Summit Avenue in Brookline. The trolley made contact with the woman, but thankfully she was conscious and alert when she was taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The people who were injured may have a claim against the MBTA.
Massachusetts allows personal injury claims against public employers like the MBTA. According to M. G. L. c. 258, section 2, “public employers shall be liable for injury or loss of property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent or wrongful act or omission of any public employee while acting within the scope of his office or employment, in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.”
While the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act limits the amount of compensatory damages that an injured party can recover from most public agencies to $100,000, this $100,000 limit does not apply to MBTA for serious bodily injury. However, a passenger cannot recover punitive damages from the MBTA. In order to recover damages, an injured party must bring a claim within two years of the incident and will have to present his or her claim to the executive officer of the public employer. Basically this means that someone injured by the negligent action of the MBTA will have to provide written notice to the MBTA general manager via certified mail.
Unlike most motor vehicles, as a common carrier, MBTA owes passengers a higher duty of care. This means that MBTA has to exercise the utmost care when transporting passengers. When a common carrier, like the MBTA, has a higher duty of care, it means that parties that are injured may have an easier time proving their claim.