Brooklyn Court Refuses to Dismiss Drunken Subway Rider's Wrongful Death Claim
In a May 31 decision that appeared in yesterday's edition of the New York Law Journal, a Brooklyn judge refused to dismiss as a matter of law a claim that the New York City Transit Authority was responsible for the death of Ronald Williams, who was found dead on the train tracks just past the Utica Avenue station.
After the accident, a Transit Authority investigation concluded that Mr. Williams must have been walking between cars while the train was being relayed and had fallen through the gap between cars.
Given the prominent warnings typically displayed on the Transit Authority's subway cars warning riders against walking between the subway cars, this case would, in my view, be a difficult case to win under relatively normal circumstances.
But the facts of this case are worse. Far worse.
Apparently, Mr. Williams was visibly intoxicated when he entered the train station, and as a result, the toll booth attendant refused to provide him with a metrocard. Williams then crawled under the turnstiles, where he lay curled up in a fetal position, and then proceeded to crawl onto a train, and then fell to the tracks when the train was in the process of switching tracks to start its travel back across that subway line.
In denying the motion, the court held as follows:
"[H]ere, a jury could reasonably find that the failure to summon aid for the decedent constituted a breach of ordinary care (see Crosland v. New York City Transit Authority, 68 NY2d 165, 169-70 [Ct App 1986]) ... Mr. Williams' appeared to be visibly and severely intoxicated. Mr. Williams was unsteady, staggering, and in such a compromised state that he could not complete a purchase on the Metrocard machine nor successfully crawl underneath a turnstile. Thereafter, [the toll booth attendant] observed the decedent lie on the floor in the fetal position, halfway through the turnstile, for five to ten minutes, in an unresponsive state. Based on the foregoing, the Court cannot find as a matter of law that Defendant was under no duty to summon aid."
While from a purely technical standpoint, I understand the Court's position, I remain bothered by this one question:
How on earth does the plaintiff's attorney think he will convince 5 out of 6 jurors that this accident isn't the exclusive fault of the decedent, Ronald Williams?
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