Andy Freeman, Kobie Flowers, Lauren DiMartino, and Michael Abrams are continuing to fight for justice on behalf of the parents and estate of Okiemute Whiteru, a lawyer who suffered an accidental injury in 2013 in the Washington D.C. Judiciary Square metro station and subsequently died from his injuries. His body was discovered by a metro commuter four days after he fell.
BGL recently appealed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to the D.C. Circuit. The District Court accepted WMATA’s argument that Mr. Whiteru was not entitled to relief because he became a trespasser when he fell over the parapet wall next to the passenger platform. In a filing submitted on May 16, 2023, BGL asserted that Mr. Whiteru remained a passenger in a special relationship with WMATA per D.C. tort law that holds transit carriers to a higher standard of care.
In its May filing, which was covered by Law360, WMATA asked the D.C. Circuit to overturn its 2022 ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and instead affirm a district court’s decision granting summary judgment. The agency argues that it cannot be held responsible for Whiteru’s death because he was deemed a trespasser when he accidentally landed in a trough behind a parapet wall, which is off limits to passengers—despite Mr. Whiteru paying passenger fare and properly entering the train platform from which he fell. The transit agency contends in the filing that because he was a trespasser, it owed no common carrier duty of care to render him aid.
However, as was confirmed by BGL’s D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals victory in 2022, WMATA has a duty to aid injured passengers if they should have known of the injury. BGL and Whiteru’s parents maintain that their son was a passenger to whom WMATA owed a duty to aid based on the special relationship exemption under D.C. tort law, as indicated in the 2022 appeal. Because WMATA—per its own policies and national transit standards—are required to inspect the station and all places where passengers and packages could be, if WMATA properly inspected the station, they would have found Mr. Whiteru and provided aid prior to his death.
The 2022 appeals victory reversed a decision made by a lower court in 2020 and allowed Whiteru’s family to seek damages. BGL originally argued the case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in September 2021, accusing the WMATA of negligence under D.C. common law, as the station agent on duty failed to discover Whiteru’s body in time to provide lifesaving care. WMATA contended that contributory negligence was a bar to recovery and a factor in Whiteru’s death. BGL’s argument in the D.C. Circuit Court explained that the duty of a common carrier to come to the aid of injured passengers precludes the application of contributory negligence in this case.
This is the second time that this lawsuit has come before the D.C. Circuit Court.
Founded in 1982, Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a law firm based in Baltimore, Maryland, with an office in Washington, DC. The firm is nationally recognized in a wide variety of practice areas, including complex civil and commercial litigation, civil rights, health care, family law, and criminal defense. Above all else, Brown, Goldstein & Levy is a client-centered law firm that brings decades of experience and passionate, effective advocacy to your fight for justice.