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E-Alert Case Updates

Metro Immune from Slip and Fall Suit

WMATA v. Tinsley
No. 1089 (Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Nov. 30, 2011)

by Colleen K. O’Brien, Associate
Semmes, Bowen & Semmes (

After slipping and falling on a wet train platform at a Metrorail station, Plaintiff brought a negligence action against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (“WMATA”), for alleged injuries. When the jury found in favor of Plaintiff, WMATA appealed, arguing that Plaintiff’s suit was barred by governmental immunity. The appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court.

Plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell on the train platform when it was still wet from having recently been cleaned. WMATA argued on appeal that Plaintiff’s claim was barred by sovereign immunity because the actions of its cleaning employees, in maintaining its station, were immune from negligent liability. WMATA’s immunity provision drew a distinction between “governmental functions” (where immunity applies) and “proprietary functions” (where immunity does not apply). In addition, similar to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FCTA), there was a discretionary function exception—which is an exception to the proprietary function. Here, the issue was whether cleaning of platforms by WMATA personnel fell within the discretionary function exception. Acts that require judgment in making decisions among a range of permissible courses of action are considered to be within the discretionary function exception. When the discretionary function exception applies, the WMATA is immunized from suit.

The court characterized the decisions made by the cleaning personnel—whether to clean the entire platform or spot clean it; whether to clean during rush hour or late at night; whether to use a cleaning machine or a mop and bucket; and which cleaner to use—as discretionary acts. Therefore, these acts fell within the discretionary function exception, which immunized WMATA from the instant lawsuit. Consequently, the appellate court reversed the trial court and the jury verdict awarded to the Plaintiff.