Yesterday evening, a man was hit by an MBTA commuter rail train in Lynn, the Boston Globe reported. It is alleged that the man was on the tracks when the Newburyport/Rockport line train hit him. He was taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center by Medflight, and his condition is not known.
Owners and managers of places (in this case, for example, the MBTA) can owe legal duties to prevent harms to persons who are on the premises. This is an area of personal injury (tort law) that is called premises liability.
Premises liability law and tort law in general differ from state to state. In some states, the nature and scope of the duty owed to the entrant is focused on the status or classification of the entrant, but in other states there is a more general duty. An “invitee” is any person (1) who is on the premises at least partly for the pecuniary benefit of the owner; or (2) who is on property that is open to the public. A “licensee” is any person who has permission to be on the premises but with limited license. A “trespasser” is a person who does not have a right to be on the premises and enters without express or implied consent from the owner. Social guests are traditionally licensees because they aren’t on the property for the financial benefit of the owner. In the example above, the injured person is an “invitee” because he was at the train station at least partly for the pecuniary benefit of the MBTA and because the train station is a public place. Therefore, in any state, this man would be owed a duty of reasonable care.
One tort law concept raised by this story is contributory negligence. At the common law, if a person was injured partly because of his or her own negligence, then they could not collect any money from the other party. Many consider this to be a very bad rule, and the following example might be illustrative of why that is: If Person A was driving drunk and over the speed limit and injured Person B who was driving carefully and within the speed limit but was 6 inches over the center line in a car crash, most likely Person B could not get any compensation for her injuries because her negligence “contributed” to the crash. Because of these often unfair results, less strict “comparative fault” rules were adopted. Under comparative negligence rules, a person can still recover even if he or she contributed to the accident, but their damages will just be reduced by the amount of their own negligence. Massachusetts is a modified comparative negligence state, meaning that a claimant will only be precluded from recovery if his negligence was greater than that of all of the defendants. In the example above, the man probably had some degree of negligence since he was standing in the tracks, but there are a variety of things that we don’t know from this story. We don’t know how he ended up in the tracks, and that is very important. For example, if he slipped and fell because of the carelessness of another person or if he was pushed into the tracks by a person who should have been stopped by MBTA security, the MBTA could be completely at fault.
Another tort law concept that is raised by this story is the doctrine of assumption of the risk. Assumption of the risk means that if a person knew about a risk, appreciated the risk, and voluntarily assumed the risk, then there can be no recovery. Assumption of the risk can be raised as an affirmative defense, but not in Massachusetts. Massachusetts does not recognize assumption of the risk. Just for the sake of analysis, though, if it did then this would again turn on whether the man voluntarily stood in the tracks or whether he fell, got pushed, etc.
If you would like to discuss premises liability law, MBTA accidents or any other personal injury matter with one of the exceptional lawyers at Altman & Altman LLP, contact us online or call us at (617) 492 3000 or (800) 481 6199.
Source: The Boston Globe, Man struck by commuter rail train in Lynn