Glover family files lawsuit against Metro

Glover family files lawsuit against Metro

By Susan Hale Thomas (Photo/Susan Hale Thomas)

The sons of the Alexandria woman who died near the L’Enfant Plaza Metrorail station during an electrical failure last month filed a $50 million wrongful death suit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority last week.

Carol Glover, 61, who suffered from asthma, was struggling to breathe on the smoke-filled train when she collapsed. Passengers allege they were trapped on the train for 45 minutes before being evacuated.

Two passengers tried to help Glover by administering CPR, but they were unable to revive Glover, who died from smoke inhalation.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators in a preliminary report found severe electrical arcing had damaged the third rail and electrical cables 1,100 feet in front of the train.

Glover’s sons, Marcus and Anthony Glover, have retained personal-injury lawyer Patrick Regan in the case. Regan previously represented the family of New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum in a $20 million lawsuit against the District of Columbia.

In that incident, the city’s medical emergency response system was accused of failing to treat Rosenbaum in a timely manner after he was beaten and robbed, which resulted in his death. Rosenbaum’s family agreed to drop the suit if the District took action to address its emergency-response policies failures.

The Glover family’s lawsuit contends WMATA was negligent by failing to properly inspect and maintain the third rail and the ventilation system and in failing to train its employees in the proper activation and use of the ventilation system in the event of a fire or smoke emergency.

The lawsuit also asserts the transit agency failed to calibrate its radio equipment to be in sync with D.C.’s fire and EMS department; have proper safety equipment on the train; investigate third-rail circuit breaks; move the train out of harm’s way; shut off electricity to the third rail in a reasonable amount of time; inform first responders that electricity had been shut off to the third rail; evacuate the train when cars were filling with smoke; and protect its passengers from injury and death.

Regan said Metro’s poor response to the incident proved fatal for his clients’ mother.

“Everything that could go wrong. did,” Regan said. “Based on our investigation of more than a dozen passengers on the train, none were injured in the first 30 minutes. The injuries occurred in the last 15 minutes. Metro could have evacuated the train safely. This was a benign incident in terms of what caused them to be trapped in the tunnel. … We’re all in danger when Metro doesn’t follow simple safety rules.”

This is not the first multi-million dollar lawsuit against WMATA. In 2009, two trains collided between Takoma and Fort Totten stations after a faulty circuit in a train’s automatic control system failed to detect another train on the track. Nine passengers were killed and dozens were injured.

Metro and three companies that manufactured systems that controlled the trains in the 2009 incident admitted responsibility for the crash. NTSB investigators in that case found the agency at fault for persistent problems and neglecting safety.

WMATA has a long history of non-compliance according to the Tri-State Oversight Committee, a committee comprising representatives from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia’s departments of transportation that report to the Federal Transit Administration.

In its three-year review of WMATA’s safety record, inspectors reviewed numerous agency plans, policies, and procedures. The committee’s most recent report, published in February 2014, cited several areas of noncompliance.

“Hazardous conditions are not being reported through the hazard management process to be analyzed systematically throughout the agency,” the committee wrote. “[Some] frontline employees are not recognizing some potential hazards as hazards, but simply deficiencies. As only one example, investigation of the May 2013 train fire at Silver Spring revealed that a chafed cable had been taped rather than evaluated for proper securement.

“As another example, it was discovered in 2013 that train operators preempted malfunctioning emergency intercoms by rigging the response mechanism on the operating console.”

Richard Sarles, who assumed the role of interim general manager and chief executive of WMATA shortly after the 2009 disaster, cited the agency’s progress on safety issues in a farewell speech to WMATA’s board just four days before January’s fatal arcing incident.

“Here at Metro I feel confident that the state of operations — both customer operations and internal operations — has improved; and we are achieving a higher standard of performance than five years ago,” Sarles said. “Safety is top of mind for all employees throughout the authority, and we continue the painstaking work needed to bring the rail and bus systems to a state of good repair.”

City Councilor Paul Smedberg, who also serves as chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, said keeping Metro in a state of good repair would be part of larger budgetary considerations for several jurisdictions, despite a gloomy fiscal outlook throughout the region.

“There are a lot of financial and operations issues facing Metro,” he said.

WMATA board Chairman Tom Downs and new Interim General Manager and CEO Jack Requa issued a letter of apology to riders and the family of Carol Glover, and said WMATA was committed to improving safety and would be working closely with federal regulators throughout the investigation.

The NTSB is investigating maintenance records of track, signal and power, and ventilation systems as well as railcars. NTSB will be reviewing Metro’s emergency response, evacuation plans and employee training records.