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BECKFORD v. UNITED STATES

January 9, 1997

EDWARD BECKFORD, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPORKIN

 The Court has conducted trial on the above-captioned case on various days during the period beginning on December 6, 1996 and ending on January 8, 1997. Plaintiff has brought this action for alleged personal injury and pain and suffering against the United States pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (the "FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seg. *fn1" He alleges that the government's negligence with respect to the placement and painting of a steel bollard on a brick path located within the C&O Canal National Historic Park in Washington, D.C. was the direct and proximate cause of injuries that he suffered on June 27, 1993, and he asks for damages in the sum of $ 500,000. The government denies that it was negligent with respect to the placement or painting of the steel bollard and claims that any recovery should be barred by Plaintiff's contributory negligence or his assumption of the risk. The government also claims to be immunized against recovery by the discretionary function exception of the FTCA.

 The Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law follow:

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 On the afternoon of June 27, 1993, Plaintiff purchased a bicycle at a store at the Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Virginia. He was accompanied by a friend, Mr. Timothy Lara. Plaintiff and Mr. Lara then returned to Mr. Lara's apartment near Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. to assemble the bicycle and eat a meal. During the course of the meal, Plaintiff drank two beers. He also had several beers later in the day. In the late afternoon following the meal, Plaintiff and Mr. Lara left Mr. Lara's apartment to go for an extended bicycle ride.

 At approximately 10:30 p.m., while still on the bicycle ride, Plaintiff and Mr. Lara were proceeding from the Mall area of Washington, D.C. into Georgetown via the Rock Creek Parkway. Neither Plaintiff nor Mr. Lara had a light on his bicycle although the sun had set several hours earlier, at 8:37 p.m. As they approached Georgetown, Plaintiff and Mr. Lara proceeded down a brick path, located within the C&O Canal National Historic Park. The brick path is owned by the United States and maintained by the National Park Service (the "Park Service") Bicycling is common on the brick path.

 Approximately forty-four feet from the entrance to the brick path, the Park Service had placed a thirty-four inch bollard in order to keep vehicles off the brick path. The bollard was placed in the center of the brick path and was painted National Park Service brown. Plaintiff followed Mr. Lara down the brick path and Mr. Lara, who was familiar with the route, skirted the bollard without incident. However, Plaintiff failed to see the bollard as he descended the slope of the brick path and struck the bollard with his left knee, severely injuring it. He was evacuated by ambulance to the George Washington University Emergency Room following the accident, where he underwent orthopedic surgery for a fractured knee cap (patella) at approximately 2 a.m. on the morning of June 28, 1993.

 Plaintiff subsequently had to undergo additional corrective surgery and still has a metal wire in his knee. He wore a cast on his left leg for an extended period of time. The open left patella fracture which Plaintiff sustained resulted in a ten percent permanent impairment of the left lower extremity. In total, Plaintiff has incurred Twenty-Eight Thousand Two Hundred Sixty-Nine Dollars ($ 28,269.00) in medical expenses as a result of the injury.

 CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

 I. Negligence of the Park Service

 The FTCA provides a basis for recovery against the United States for the negligent or wrongful actions of its employees. 28 U.S.C. § 2675. The potential liability of the United States is assessed by reference to the law of the jurisdiction in which the alleged negligent or wrongful acts giving rise to the action occurred. 28 U.S.C. § 2674.

 Under negligence law in the District of Columbia, in order to recover, Plaintiff must prove (1) that Defendant breached a duty of care owed to Plaintiff, (2) that Defendant's breach of duty was the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injuries, and (3) that Plaintiff sustained damages as a result thereof. See, for example, Williams v. Baker, 572 A.2d 1062 (D.C. 1990); District of Columbia v. Cooper, 483 A.2d 317, 321 (D.C. 1984). The law of negligence in the District of Columbia does not acknowledge differing standards of care, but rather requires adherence to a uniform standard of conduct, which is reasonable care under the circumstances. Morgan v. District of Columbia, 468 A.2d 1306 (D.C. 1983).

 The Court finds that Plaintiff has established each element of his negligence claim.

 A. Duty. The United States, as a landowner through its agent, the National Park Service, owes a common law duty of reasonable care to all persons lawfully on its land. See Smith v. Arbaugh's Restaurant, Inc., 152 U.S. App. D.C. 86, 469 F.2d 97, 100 (1972). See also Holland v. Baltimore & Ohio R.R. Co., 431 A.2d 597 (D.C. 1981) (en banc); Sandoe v. Lefta Associates, 559 A.2d 732 (D.C. 1988). The standard of care owed to park users is that of reasonable care under all of the circumstances and includes a duty to conduct reasonable supervision and inspection of the land to identify and guard against foreseeable dangers to those on the land. Arbaugh, 469 F.2d at 100. In ...


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