Commuting on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) Metrorail is just part of the daily grind for those living in Bethesda who work in Washington, D.C. Still, the unexpected can occur just about any day, and sometimes we see stories on the nightly news of Metrorail derailments that injure commuters.
When it comes to car accidents, liability can be relatively straightforward. But what about Metrorail accidents, where you are dealing with not only the operator of the rail service, but also WMATA itself?
Government immunity and respondeat superior
In general, when a person operating a vehicle causes an accident, and that person is on-the-job as an employee at the time of the crash, both the worker and their employer might be held responsible for the collision. This is referred to as “respondeat superior” and it means that, since the employer has a supervisor-worker relationship with the at-fault driver, the employer is responsible for the actions of the employee.
While government employees generally enjoy governmental immunity that protects them from private tort claims, private citizens might be able to bring personal injury lawsuits against government entities in Maryland under the Maryland Tort Claims Act.
In such lawsuits the state steps into the shoes of the state employee. This means that the lawsuit is brought against the state rather than the worker if the worker’s actions were within the scope of employment and were not intended to be malicious or were not done with gross negligence. If the worker acted maliciously or with gross negligence, they might lose their immunity and be held personally liable.
So, this means in the example of a Metrorail accident, a claim might be able to be filed against WMATA if the operator was working within the scope of their job duties and did not act with malice or gross negligence.
Bringing a lawsuit against WMATA has intricacies and procedural requirements not found in standard personal injury lawsuits brought against private citizens. This can make pursuing a legal claim against WMATA difficult for those unfamiliar with these requirements. So, trying to take on the government on your own might not do you any favors.