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GATLING v. WASHINGTON METRO. AREA TRANSIT AUTH.

October 24, 1994

JOYCE GATLING, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PATRICK J. ATTRIDGE

 The parties have consented to proceed before a magistrate judge for all purposes including trial. 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(c). Presently pending is the defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's ("WMATA" or "Metro") motion for summary judgment.

 Background

 On May 20, 1993, at about 4:45 p.m., the plaintiff, Joyce Gatling, was on WMATA's northbound Gallery Place station platform waiting for a train to take her to the Ft. Totten Station. When the train came to a stop, she noticed that the coach car she intended to enter was fully loaded. As Ms. Gatling attempted to enter the coach, her left toes struck the coach body beneath the door threshold and her left leg lodged in the gap between the platform and the body of the coach. She was immediately assisted by several passengers and extracted from this perilous situation. She entered the coach and proceeded to her destination. It was not until later that evening that she realized the nature and extent of her injury. WMATA was not on notice of this claim until the plaintiff filed suit some four months after the incident. The only known witnesses to the accident are Jan Clark, the plaintiff's daughter, and Raymond Lightfoot, a coworker.

 The Suspension System

 WMATA's rail coaches are supplied by either Rohr Industries, Inc. or Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie in accordance with design criteria issued by WMATA. The specifications require the manufacturers to utilize a dual suspension system which allows for vertical movement of the coaches while passengers are entering and exiting the coach. The primary suspension system consists of mechanical springs located over the axle, similar to the system used on automobiles. The secondary suspension system utilizes leveling valves and bellows (air bags) to control the level of the coach. These bags, located beneath and exterior to the passenger compartment, are parallel to each other and operate in tandem. By increasing or decreasing the air pressure in the bags, the level of the coach is changed to meet the needs of the passenger load in both static and dynamic conditions. The coach threshold height, normally platform level, can move up and down to compensate for passenger loading and unloading. The design standards allow vertical movement of 3 inches; 1 1/2 inches above to 1 1/2 inches below the standard platform height of 40 1/2 inches. Moreover, the design standards permit a 1/4 inch tolerance in the construction of the station platform. *fn1" Therefore, the coach floor within design standards, may reach a dynamic period level of 1 3/4 inches above the station platform. The coach floor level is prevented from exceeding this maximum permissible vertical height by mechanical stops. The mechanical stops are metallic projections extending from the coach beneath the platform when the car is stopped at a station.

 The design features of the rail system also provide for a gap between the outer edge of the station platform and the body of the coach. This gap allows for variation in station design, construction, track wear, track gauge and wheel flange wear so as to prevent a coach from striking the station platform as it passes through a station.

 Plaintiff's Theories

 Ms. Gatling's initial complaint sought damages from WMATA for negligence alleging that "a dangerous, defective condition in the design, construction and maintenance of the defendant's metro system caused" her bodily injury.

 
to avoid any confusion on the nature of the claim . . . the complaint has been amended to delete the major work 'design' and thereby remove any colorable relationship to a discretionary decision by the Defendant. Rather here, the Defendant adopted standards to assure a substantially horizontal alignment between the track floor and platform, but negligently failed to assure that the safety devices provided on the coaches performed their intended role of horizontal alignment.

 (Pl.'s P. & A. Opp. Mot. Dismiss at 7.)

 The amended complaint, however, merely alleged that WMATA was on notice of a "dangerous defective condition and negligently failed to remedy this condition and negligently failed to warn the plaintiff of the hazard." (Am. Compl. at 1.) The complaint lacked specificity and contained no mention of the nature of the dangerous defective condition.

 On January 25, 1994, the plaintiff filed a Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26(b)(4) statement containing the opinions expected to be expressed by her engineering expert witness, Paul Gottfried. According to the statement, based upon the testimony of witnesses and following a review of records and materials furnished by WMATA to Mr. Gottfried, Gottfried would express the opinion that for sometime prior to May 20, 1993, WMATA

 
was aware of a defective condition which had the potential to present the traveling public with a vertical separation between the horizontal plane of the coach threshold and the horizontal plane of the metrorail platform approximately fifteen to twenty times in excess of the allowed tolerance;
 
. . . [that] a reasonably prudent mass transit authority would have revised the regular maintenance schedule procedures to more closely monitor its coaches to reduce or minimize the occurrence of these hazardous vertical separations in [an] effort to conform the coach-platform horizontal plane to required and acceptable tolerances;
 
That the deviations in vertical separation from required engineering tolerances posed a hazard to foot movement and placement for the travelling public entering and ...

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