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John Antonio Evans v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

October 6, 2011

JOHN ANTONIO EVANS PLAINTIFF,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

John Antonio Evans was very badly injured after he struck a stopped car while riding his motorcycle on a city street, was thrown forward onto the road, and was then struck by a passing bus operated by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA"). Mr. Evans presented his case on liability, bifurcated from damages because of the unavailability of certain witnesses, to a jury in the District of Columbia. After deliberating for approximately seven hours, the jury returned a verdict finding that WMATA's driver was negligent and that Mr. Evans was contributorily negligent, but that Mr. Evans had failed to prove two of the four elements of the common law doctrine of "last clear chance." As a result, despite the jury's finding that WMATA was negligent, Mr. Evans collected no damages. Mr. Evans now moves for a new trial. He argues that the "last clear chance" doctrine was improperly applied in this case, the jury's verdict is internally inconsistent, WMATA's counsel made prejudicial statements during closing argument, and the Court wrongly refused to admit evidence that supported his case. None of the arguments made by Mr. Evans is sufficient to warrant a new trial. The motion will be denied.

I. FACTS

There is no dispute that the evidence at trial showed the following. On January 4, 2007, Mr. Evans was operating his motorcycle at a higher speed than rush hour traffic would allow in the left southbound lane of Martin Luther King Avenue, S.E. in the District of Columbia. At that time, a vehicle driven by Vincent Fong had been stopped for almost a minute to make a left-hand turn at the intersection of Pomeroy Road. Mr. Evans came up to Mr. Fong's vehicle, was unable to pass it, and collided with the rear of the vehicle. The force of impact ejected him from his motorcycle to the front right side of Mr. Fong's car. A WMATA bus then struck Mr. Evans, very badly injuring him. Plaintiff admits that "[i]t is . . . clear that WMATA's negligence did not cause plaintiff to be put into that position" on the roadway to be struck. Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Opp'n to Mot. for New Trial [Dkt. # 104] at 5 ("Pl.'s Reply"); see also Pl.'s Mot. for New Trial [Dkt. # 92] ¶ 3 ("Pl.'s Mot.") ("[I]t was clear that the reason that the plaintiff was thrown off his motorcycle had nothing to do with the defendant's negligence. . . [I]t is clear that the defendant's negligence occurred after the plaintiff was already thrown off his motorcycle.").

The jury was presented with the testimony of nine lay witnesses by way of live courtroom testimony, videotape deposition and witness statement, as well as statements made by Mr. Evans in medical records. The parties both presented expert opinion evidence by accident reconstructionists. In addition, many photographs of the accident scene and the motor vehicles were introduced and scale drawings of the intersection were used by the accident reconstructionists during their testimony. After deliberations, the jury provided answers to specific, numbered questions on a special verdict form in the following manner:

1. Do you find that plaintiff John Antonio Evans has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant WMATA was negligent and such negligence proximately caused the plaintiff's injuries?*fn1

Yes X No ___

2. Do you find that defendant WMATA has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that plaintiff John Antonio Evans was contributorily negligent?

Yes X No ___

3. Do you find that the plaintiff John Antonio Evans has proven by a preponderance of the evidence each of the following:

a. That he was in a position of danger caused by the negligence of both himself and the defendant?

Yes ___ No X

b. That he was unaware of the danger or unable to remove himself from the position of danger?

Yes X No ___

c. That the defendant was aware, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have been aware of plaintiff's danger and obliviousness or ...


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