The Metro-North train has made headlines in the past for serious crashes that have resulted in major injuries and even death. Most recently, last December, four were killed and dozens hurt when a train operated by the company derailed after the operator allegedly fell asleep.
However, our Manhattan injury lawyers know the more common claims for damages stem from smaller instances. An example is the recent case of Barney-Yeboah v. Metro-North Commuter R.R., before the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department.
According to court records, the plaintiff was a passenger on a Metro-North train in New York County when a ceiling panel in the train car sudden swung open and struck her in the head. She would later testify she was seated on the train, heard a loud “bang” and the next thing she knew, she was on her knees with people around her yelling. When the commotion settled, she looked up and saw a cabinet utility door was hanging by a panel. She and other witnesses surmised this was what had struck her.
At the trial court level, she sought a partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. The court denied this motion, but the appellate court reversed.
Generally, it’s rare for a court to grant a plaintiff’s request for summary judgment in a liability case -particularly on the grounds of res ipsa loquitur (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”). Such a ruling is reserved for only exceptional cases. Per the 2006 ruling in Morejon v. Rais Constr. Co., such a ruling can be granted only in cases where plaintiff’s circumstantial proof is so convincing (and the defendant’s response so weak) that an inference of negligence by the defense is inescapable.
This, the appellate court ruled, was one of those cases.
Plaintiff had a responsibility to prove the following three elements in her case:
- The accident is the sort that would not ordinarily occur absent defendant negligence;
- The instrumentality that caused the accident was within the exclusive control of defendant;
- The accident was not due to any voluntary action or contribution of the plaintiff.
This burden of proof was met, the court found, with the submission of witness testimony, as well as testimony from the defendant foreman. The latter testified it was the HVAC and ventilation system panel that struck the plaintiff’s head. He also indicated no one but train employees had access to that panel, and he had no explanation for how the incident occurred.
On appeal, defense argued it did not have exclusive control of the panel. However, it provided no evidence to support this claim. Therefore, the grant of partial summary judgment on the issue of liability was upheld. Now, the only matter left to decide is how much the plaintiff should receive in damages.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Barney-Yeboah v. Metro-North Commuter R.R., New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Judicial Department
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