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Robinson v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 23, 2013

DARLENE C. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For DARLENE C. ROBINSON, Plaintiff: Charles C. Parsons, LEAD ATTORNEY, Charles Krikawa, IV, CHARLES C. PARSONS & ASSOCIATES, CHTD., Washington, DC.

For WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Defendant: Kathleen Ann Carey, LEAD ATTORNEY, WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY, Office of General Counsel, Washington, DC.

OPINION

PAUL L. FRIEDMAN, United States District Judge.

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Plaintiff Darlene Robinson initiated this action after sustaining an ankle injury while riding a Metrobus operated by defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (" WMATA" ). Ms. Robinson alleges that her injury resulted from the negligent driving of WMATA's employee. After a five-day trial in June 2012, the jury returned a verdict in Ms. Robinson's favor. WMATA has filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or, in the alternative, for a new

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trial pursuant to Rule 59. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b)(3), 59(a)(1)(A). Upon careful consideration of the parties' papers, the relevant legal authorities, the evidence and arguments presented at trial, and the entire record in this case, the Court will grant WMATA's motion for judgment and will dismiss as moot WMATA's motion for a new trial.[1]

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Darlene Robinson testified at trial on her own behalf. She also called two expert witnesses to testify: Dr. Carl Berkowitz, a civil engineer specializing in public transportation safety engineering; and Dr. Jamie Williams, a biomedical and biomechanical engineer. In addition, Ms. Robinson called her treating physician, Dr. Andrew Siekanowicz; her sister, Shirleta Robinson Tyson; and her former co-worker, Karla Allen.

Defendant WMATA called as a witness Ronald Bumpass, the bus driver who was operating the bus on the morning of the incident. It also called two expert witnesses: Edward Harris, Service Director for Bus Transportation at WMATA; and Dr. Jeffrey Abend, an orthopedic surgeon.

Ms. Robinson testified that on the morning of April 16, 2008, she boarded the E2 WMATA bus at the intersection of Gallatin and 11th Streets, N.E., near her home in northeast Washington, D.C. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 31; see also June 7 AM Trial Tr. 8 (parties' stipulation). A 44-year-old economic analyst, Ms. Robinson was in good health and did not need any assistance to board the bus. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 28, 57-58. She swiped her SmarTrip card and greeted the bus driver, Ronald Bumpass. Id. at 31-32; see also June 7 AM Trial Tr. 8.

According to Ms. Robinson, she then proceeded down the center aisle of the bus while holding on to the handrails, passing several available seats. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 31-33, 68-70. While Ms. Robinson was walking down the aisle, Mr. Bumpass pulled the bus away from the bus stop. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 34. Mr. Bumpass acknowledged that he did not glance in his internal center mirror to check on the passengers before doing so, nor did he verbally alert the passengers that he was releasing the brakes and proceeding forward. June 7 AM Trial Tr. 49-50, 82-83; see also June 7 AM Trial Tr. 9 (parties' stipulation).

Ms. Robinson testified that shortly after Mr. Bumpass pulled away from the bus stop, and while Ms. Robinson was still walking down the center aisle, he slammed on the brakes but did not come to a complete stop. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 34, 60-62; see also June 7 AM Trial Tr. 49-51, 75-76 (testimony of Ronald Bumpass). According to Ms. Robinson, this deceleration caused her to lose her balance, fall and injure her left ankle. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 35, 66-67.

Another passenger on the bus alerted Mr. Bumpass that Ms. Robinson had fallen down. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 35-36 (testimony of Darlene Robinson); June 7 AM Trial Tr. 51 (testimony of Ronald Bumpass). Mr. Bumpass pulled over to the side of the street, stopped the bus, and

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went back to check on Ms. Robinson. June 6 PM Trial Tr. 36. Mr. Bumpass offered to take Ms. Robinson to the Fort Totten Metrorail station, but Ms. Robinson declined, explaining that she preferred to return to her house. Id. Mr. Bumpass helped Ms. Robinson off the bus, and she hobbled home. Id. at 36-37. Ms. Robinson alleges that Mr. Bumpass operated the bus in a negligent and unsafe manner, and that she was injured as a direct result of this negligence.

In addition to providing her own account of the incident at trial, Ms. Robinson's sister and former co-worker testified as to the authenticity and severity of her injury, as did Dr. Siekanowicz. Dr. Carl Berkowitz testified as an expert witness that the driver violated several national standards of care that morning, and Dr. Jamie Williams testified as an expert that Ms. Robinson's injury was caused by Ms. Robinson's loss of grip on the handrail and a lack of friction between her foot and the floor.

WMATA moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure at the close of plaintiff's case and again at the conclusion of the evidence. See June 7 AM Trial Tr. 10-34; June 7 PM Trial Tr. 32. The Court reserved ruling on these motions and submitted the case to the jury in accordance with Rule 50(b). See June 7 AM Trial Tr. 34; June 7 PM Trial Tr. 32. The jury returned a verdict in Ms. Robinson's favor, finding that WMATA's employee, Mr. Bumpass, was negligent in his operation of the E2 bus on April 16, 2008, and that this negligence resulted in Ms. Robinson's injury. See Jury Verdict Form. The jury awarded Ms. Robinson $371,379.68 in compensatory damages and $33,333.60 in lost wages. Id.; Clerk's Judgment.

In its motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial, WMATA asserts that the expert testimony provided by plaintiff's experts was irrelevant and of no assistance to the jury, as well as lacking in foundation sufficient to support their expert opinions. It argues that the testimony of Dr. Williams and Dr. Berkowitz therefore should be stricken. WMATA contends that without this expert testimony, Ms. Robinson has failed to prove a prima ...


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