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Robinson v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Auth.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 19, 2014


Argued September 12, 2014.

Page 34

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:11-cv-00723).

Charles C. Parsons argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Kathleen A. Carey argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellees. Mark F. Sullivan entered an appearance.

Before: GARLAND, Chief Judge, SRINIVASAN, Circuit Judge, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.


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Garland, Chief Judge:

A bus driver, one Mr. Bumpass, hits the brakes as he approaches a stop sign. The plaintiff, a passenger on the bus, falls

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backward and breaks her leg. The question on appeal is whether, in light of the evidence presented at trial, a reasonable jury could find the bus company liable for the plaintiff's injury. Applying the common law of the District of Columbia, we affirm the district court's conclusion that a reasonable jury could not.


On the morning of April 16, 2008, Darlene Robinson boarded a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) bus at the Gallatin and 11th Street stop in Northeast Washington, D.C. She paid her fare and proceeded past bus driver Ronald Bumpass. Robinson continued down the aisle, gripping the seat-back handrails as she went. Bumpass closed the doors and began driving away from the stop. Shortly thereafter, Bumpass hit the brakes as he approached a stop sign on Gallatin Street. As the bus decelerated, Robinson -- who was still standing, facing the back of the bus -- lost her grip on a handrail, fell in a twisting motion, " landed on [her] . . . backside," and broke her left leg. J.A. 514 (Robinson Testimony).

Robinson sued WMATA, alleging that Bumpass' negligent operation of the bus caused her injury and that WMATA was responsible.[1] At trial, Robinson sought to prove Bumpass' negligence on two theories. First, she sought to show that he violated WMATA's standard operating procedures (SOPs). Second, she sought to show that the " jerk" caused by Bumpass' application of the brakes was of such extraordinary force that his negligence could be inferred.

In support of her claim that Bumpass was negligent because he violated WMATA's SOPs, Robinson presented the expert testimony of Dr. Carl Berkowitz, a public transportation safety engineer. Dr. Berkowitz testified that the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Transportation fund research studies to address transportation safety issues, and that the results and recommendations from those studies " emanate[]" and " filter[] down" to " all the major transit agencies." J.A. 270-71. According to Berkowitz, those results and recommendations have led to nationally agreed-upon safety standards that all major cities in the United States, including the District of Columbia, have implemented.

Dr. Berkowitz then identified two WMATA SOPs relevant to this case, and stated that each reflected the national standard of care for city bus travel. First, a WMATA bus driver is required to check his or her rearview mirror before departing from a stop to confirm that all passengers are " secure" and " prepared for vehicle movement." J.A. 938, 941. Second, a WMATA bus driver is instructed to start the bus " gradually" and stop the bus " smoothly." J.A. 942-43.

Counsel for WMATA asked Dr. Berkowitz where and when these national standards for safe bus travel were articulated. Berkowitz replied that they were " developed from research, which actually dates back to Hammurabi -- the Hammurabi Code -- I guess [that] would be 3,500 years ago." J.A. 458. He also said that the " first major research in this area[] was in the book of Deuteronomy." Id.

To establish that Bumpass violated the SOPs identified by Dr. Berkowitz, Robinson called Bumpass himself to the stand.

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Bumpass admitted that he did not check his mirror before leaving the stop that morning. He knew there were several open seats up front, he said, and he assumed Robinson had sat down by the time he closed the doors and started driving. J.A. 667-68.

In support of her alternative theory -- that Bumpass' negligence was shown by the fact that his braking had caused the bus to jerk with extraordinary force -- Robinson took the stand to testify that the bus was going " fast, faster than normal buses," J.A. 513, and that it " was jerking and then [there] was an abrupt stop," J.A. 528. The abrupt stop, she ...

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