Blind man’s death on Blue Line train brings $17-million verdict
By Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times – July 30, 2011
The lay minister was on his way from his Compton home to a church in Long Beach in 2009 when he fell between two cars, mistaking the gap for a door. He was crushed as the train left the station.
A Los Angeles jury Friday awarded $17 million to the mother of a blind man who died after he fell between the cars of a Metro Blue Line train, having mistaken the gap for a door.
The jury unanimously found that the agency was negligent in the death of 48-year-old Cameron Cuthbertson, who was on his way from his Compton home to a church in Long Beach. Jurors also found that the train’s operator, who despite radio calls and shouting passengers continued to drive for seven additional stops until the end of the line, was negligent.
Cuthbertson, a lay minister who developed glaucoma in his 20s and became legally blind, was killed on the morning of Jan. 28, 2009, at the Blue Line’s Del Amo station. The three-car train departed as he was trying to climb back onto the platform, crushing his body. The entire incident was captured on multiple security cameras, and shown repeatedly to the jury at trial, attorneys said.
Cuthbertson’s attorneys argued that Metro had failed to install protective barriers between the cars in spite of what they contended was a well-known danger for the blind. All of Metro’s lines other than the Blue Line, its oldest, had the barriers. They said the oversight was particularly egregious given how much the blind rely on trains.
Barriers were installed immediately after Cuthbertson’s death.
“The evidence was overwhelming that for 19 years, the MTA failed to protect the disabled and visually impaired,” said attorney Brian Panish, who represented the man’s mother, Mary Cuthbertson.
Panish also said the operator, Rosie Haynes, had stopped the train more than two feet away from where she was supposed to, leading Cuthbertson to mistake where the train’s door might be. Additionally, Haynes was required to dwell in the station for longer than she did, shaving off seconds that could have allowed the man to escape harm, Panish said.
Metro attorneys contended that the propriety of the train’s design was not a question that should have been put to a jury.
James Reiss, who represented the agency, said Metro was immune from being sued based on a design that had been approved by the state when the line was built in 1990.
“Metro maintains it was not negligent or otherwise responsible for Mr. Cuthbertson’s death, and there are strong grounds for appeal,” the agency said in a statement released after Friday’s verdict. The statement said Cuthbertson’s was “the only fatal incident involving a sight-impaired passenger on any Metro Rail line in two decades of operation.”
Reiss also said the Blue Line was built before the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, and was therefore not subject to its requirements.
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