When a person loses their life in an accident that could have been prevented, surviving family members are sometimes entitled to recovery of damages in a wrongful death lawsuit. While no amount of legal damages or future preventative actions can truly replace the loss of a loved one, compensation can ease the financial burden that often follows a wrongful death incident. In Washington D.C., one family has filed a case involving the tragic death of an attorney in a D.C. Metro station, whose death may have been prevented if employees were more attentive or present.
The case in question traces back to October 2013. Okiemute Whiteru was sitting down on a lower protective concrete barrier located at the Judiciary Square metro station. Whiteru fell behind the barrier into a small “trench-like” pit. The fall was an 8 foot drop, and the impact caused Whiteru to suffer severe injuries, including fractured vertebra. It is not known exactly how long it took for him to die, but Whiteru died behind the barrier and his body remained in the trench for 4 days before anyone discovered it. He was still partially visible from above, but it took that long (4 days) before a Metro rider spotted his body and quickly alerted station personnel.
It is suspected that if Whiteru had received medical care soon after the fall, he could have possibly survived, but it took 4 days for him to be discovered by another person.
The Family’s Case
The Whiteru family filed a case against D.C. Metro in June 2015. The lawsuit alleged that D.C. Metro could have acted sooner than it did, and doing so could have saved Whiteru’s life. In the initial lawsuit, the parties involved were unsure how long Whiteru lived after his fall, however, they did agree that if he had been discovered at least by 1:30, which would have been 15 minutes after his fall, he would have survived the ordeal.
Metro responded to the lawsuit with a motion to dismiss the case. They argued that the family did not present enough evidence to suggest that Metro employees could have prevented Whiteru’s death. Metro also invoked “sovereign immunity” for this case. Ultimately, however, the D.C. Superior Court rejected the motion, and the case is set to proceed to trial.
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that can prevent state or federal authorities from being sued, except in certain cases or situations. This can make cases against the government somewhat difficult to pursue. The Whiteru family, however, was able to clear this hurdle, and their case will move on to trial.