The state of Massachusetts has multiple public transportation authorities, the most famous being the MBTA, or as it’s more commonly referred to, the T. Transportation authorities operate multiple forms of public transportation, including busing, street cars, commuter railways, subways, and ferry systems.
On any given weekday, over 1.5 million people use some form of public transportation provided by the MBTA. In fact, Boston has the 3rd largest public transportation system in the country, following only New York City and Chicago. Although most MBTA passengers arrive at their desired destination safely, injuries can and do occur.
Often when injuries do occur on public transit systems, it is the result of unsafe conditions at the stations or on the trains and buses themselves. It is important for the public to be educated on how to stay safe while using public transportation, as well as what their rights are should they suffer injuries while riding a train or bus. Making a claim for injuries against the T is tricky and sound legal advice is needed early in the process in order to not lose your right to compensation.
Common Types of MBTA Accidents
In the 28 years I have been practicing law, I have seen many different types of accidents involving T owned or controlled vehicles. Among the most common fact patterns we have seen involve the ‘shortstop’ injuries. These involve situations where a passenger on either a train or bus is thrown about the vehicle due to the vehicle either stopping or accelerating abruptly. A passenger is usually standing due to the vehicle being crowded and the driver either jams on the brakes or starts off too fast before the passengers can get themselves secure. This may happen due to traffic conditions beyond the driver’s control or due to the bus or train driver’s negligence. Serious injury can also result from a bus or train striking a pedestrian or another commuter, though the specifics of the situation dictate who is responsible.
Technological and mechanical failures can also cause injury in public transportation. For example, when a street level train is approaching a crossing there is supposed to be warning bells and crossing gates designed to warn people to get and stay out of the way. It is possible for these systems to malfunction, leading to injury. Malfunction could also occur on bus or subway doors as passengers are entering or exiting the vehicle.
In many cases of MBTA injury, the injury occurs before the passenger even boards the vehicle. The MBTA owns the bus stops and subway platforms from which you board the vehicle, and injury which occurs there may be the fault of the MBTA. These types of injuries are called platform injuries.
Slips and falls are a common occurrence as well due to the slippery wet conditions that often result from our classic New England weather. Slip and fall injuries can be quite serious as many subway platforms are elevated and require a staircase or escalator to access. Platform injuries may also include defects in the facility itself, such as walkways being broken and dangerous to walk on, handrails being broken or missing, or ice and snow not being properly removed or treated.
Who is Liable for Injury?
To pursue a claim for injuries against the T you must prove the T was negligent in some manner and that their negligence caused you to be injured.
One potential and often overlooked theory of negligence on the part of the MBTA may include negligence in hiring and training employees. For example, if they failed to properly train a bus driver on how to operate the bus, and that negligence led to an injury, it is likely that the MBTA would be found liable for the injuries. The MBTA overall has a responsibility to ensure their passengers remain as safe as reasonably possible while on their buses and trains and that includes having properly trained employees.
Another form of negligence on the part of the MBTA may include failure to properly maintain their premises. The MBTA has the responsibility to make sure that any slippery surface, or surfaces exposed to weathering, are cleaned up or marked to make passengers aware of the risk. The MBTA also has the responsibility to maintain their property and fix any mechanical or structural defects. Buses, trains, stations, and facilities open to the public have to be maintained so they are safe for the public.
How to Make A Claim Against The T
Suing the T (or any other public state agency) is a different and much more specific process from suing a private individual or business. This process is governed in part by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 258, Section 4, which states:
A civil action shall not be instituted against a public employer on a claim for damages under this chapter unless the claimant shall have first presented his claim in writing to the executive officer of such public employer within two years after the date upon which the cause of action arose, and such claim shall have been finally denied by such executive officer in writing and sent by certified or registered mail, or as otherwise provided by this section
Basically, people injured by the T’s negligence have two years from the date of the accident to properly notify the MBTA of their claim by notifying the executive officer of the MBTA. This written notification is known as making presentment and this presentment letter must be done correctly or else you forever lose your right to sue the T for your injuries. I can’t stress this enough, this is a trap for the unwary and anyone injured on the T or by any public agency really should consult an attorney to ensure the presentment letter is done right and in a timely manner.
With offices in Chelsea and Salem, MA, Spada Law Group provides Boston quality legal representation without the commute into the city with free on-premises or validated parking. We are here to answer any questions you may have. Call Spada Law Group today at 617-889-5000 to discuss your situation. The consultation is free and there is absolutely no obligation to hire us. We are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm.