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Premises liability cases against Metro face new challenges

Maryland commuters will have to be a little more careful on their daily commute. Metro, also known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, has just won a Maryland court battle that makes it mostly immune from slip-and-fall and premises liability lawsuits as a government agency.

After two riders slipped and fell on wet floors at Prince George's County metro station, they sued Metro for compensation for their injuries. The first incident involved a woman who slipped on a wet platform at the Cheverly station and broke her ankle. She argued that the platform had been mopped during rush hour, contrary to an agency rule to wait until after 7:00 p.m., and a jury awarded her over $64,000 in damages. The second accident involved a woman who slipped in a pool of water, and a jury awarded her nearly $19,000. The two separate suits were combined and worked their way to Maryland's highest court, which decided that Metro was not liable for its maintenance decisions, thereby changing premises liability law in the state.

The court's decision gives Metro, as an organization formed by Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, the same "sovereign immunity" that state and local governments have. But that does not mean Metro is immune from all injuries; for example, accidents involving buses and trains may give rise to lawsuits. The court said Metro's liability depends on whether the individual's injury comes from a governmental decision based on policy, such as when to mop floors or the procedure for making repairs. If the injury was part of a government function that involves discretion, immunity will not apply.

Metro serves millions in the community and is a frequent target of lawsuits. In the last year there were at least 62 suits involving Metro.

Source:, "Maryland's highest court upholds WMATA's legal immunity," Kytja Weir, Nov. 7, 2012

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