The Jan. 12 Yellow Line incident damaged the electrified third rail near L'Enfant Plaza.
The Jan. 12 Yellow Line incident damaged the electrified third rail near L'Enfant Plaza.

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One lawsuit has already been filed over last week’s deadly Metro incident, which filled a train with smoke and left one passenger dead. According to the lawyer behind it, dozens more could be on the way.

Kim Brooks-Rodney, an attorney with the personal-injury firm Cohen & Cohen, announced the first lawsuit against Metro last week, on behalf of Malbert Rich, one of more than 80 Yellow Line passengers who were transported to the hospital after being evacuated from a smoke-filled tunnel just south of L’Enfant Plaza. She now has 50 clients who were affected by the incident—-a number that continues to grow, since she’s had “appointments every hour” in recent days, she says.

Brooks-Rodney plans to file individual lawsuits on behalf of her clients rather than a class-action suit. As a result, Metro could be facing well over 50 lawsuits, unless it chooses to settle some of the cases out of court.

Brooks-Rodney says she’s unlikely to seek punitive damages against Metro, although she cautions that could change if more evidence of the subway operator’s negligence comes to light. Instead, she plans to seek only compensatory damages for her clients. She has not put a number to the damages she’s seeking, and says the appropriate amount varies by client.

Negligence is the main charge Brooks-Rodney levels against Metro: failure to repair the insulators that Metro knew were causing electrical arcing, the likely culprit of the smoke, and failure to fix radio communications after being informed that they were not functioning around L’Enfant Plaza. “If they had a plan, it wasn’t working,” she says. “I don’t think they had a plan.”

Brooks-Rodney knows Metro well: She worked there, as an assistant general counsel, from 1988 to 1993. She says that in that role, she wasn’t privy to safety measures. But now, she says, “it seems apparent that they’re not really safety conscious, though they say that they are.”

These days, Brooks-Rodney is less intimately acquainted with the Metro system, because she’s stopped riding it. “I was born and raised here, and it wasn’t until that 2009 incident [when a Red Line crash killed eight people] that I gave riding on subways a second thought,” she says. “Ever since then, I make a mental effort to get in a middle car.” And after last week’s incident? “Now there’s no compelling reason for me to get on the subway. I’ll catch a cab.”

Photo from the National Transportation Safety Board