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WASHINGTON METRO. TRANSIT AUTH. v. JEANTY

October 1, 1998

WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, APPELLANT,
V.
FRANCES JEANTY, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, FREDERICK H. WEISBERG, J. [718 A2d Page 173]

Before Terry, Schwelb, and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge:

Frances Jeanty, a passenger on a Metrobus operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), suffered a fractured shoulder and related serious injuries when the rear door of the bus allegedly malfunctioned, closed too quickly, and catapulted her off the bus and onto the pavement. Ms. Jeanty filed suit against WMATA, alleging primarily that the bus had been negligently maintained and inadequately inspected. *fn1 Following a four-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff in the amount of $560,000.

WMATA challenged the sufficiency of the evidence by a motion for a directed verdict at trial and by a post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL). *fn2 WMATA now reiterates this challenge on appeal. In a written order denying WMATA's post-trial motion, the trial judge held that, although the case was a close one, the evidence was nevertheless sufficient to require its submission to the jury. We affirm.

I.

THE EVIDENCE

A. The accident.

The accident which precipitated this litigation occurred on November 13, 1991. Ms. Jeanty, who was then fifty-three years old and employed as a secretary-typist, testified that on the afternoon of that day she was alighting from a Metrobus on her way home from a shopping trip. According to Ms. Jeanty, the rear door of the bus suddenly and rapidly closed on her. Ms. Jeanty was "propelled" to the ground, and she suffered significant injuries.

Anne Ford, another passenger on the bus who was not previously acquainted with Ms. Jeanty, elaborated on Ms. Jeanty's account. Ms. Ford testified that the door ejected Ms. Jeanty "so fast, it would be like someone shot out of a cannon." Ms. Ford added that she had been riding Metro buses all of her life, and that she had never seen a bus door close so rapidly. *fn3

B. The mechanism.

At trial, Ms. Jeanty's counsel called a WMATA maintenance inspector, John Shoemaker, as an expert witness. Counsel also introduced the deposition testimony of Michael D. Cowager, a WMATA maintenance analyst. The uncontradicted testimony of the two WMATA representatives established that the speed at which the rear door closes is controlled by a "door speed regulator." The appropriate setting for the regulator is six seconds, three to open and three to close.

C. The preventive maintenance schedule.

At all times relevant to this appeal, WMATA had in place a preventive maintenance [718 A2d Page 174]

schedule designed to assure the safety of its buses. Pursuant to this schedule, the bus on which Ms. Jeanty was riding was supposed to be inspected every two weeks. Under WMATA's guidelines, the inspection was to include, among other things, a check of the adjustment of the door speed regulator.

WMATA maintenance records, which were introduced into evidence by Ms. Jeanty's attorney, established that the bus on which Ms. Jeanty was riding should have been inspected on October 1, 1991, October 15, 1991, October 29, 1991, and November 12, 1991. In fact, however, the bus was not inspected on any of these days. The accident occurred on November 13, 1991, the day after the last scheduled inspection.

There was also evidence that WMATA's "Standard Operating Procedures" (SOP's) required the bus driver to check the rear door for proper operation before taking the bus out for the day. The record does not reveal whether or not the driver who initially operated the bus in question on the day of the accident complied with this SOP.

II.

LEGAL DISCUSSION

A. The standard of ...


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