Dustin Dibble, 25, admits that he was drinking for four hours before he went to the 14th Street station and then fell into the path of a train, which cut off his right leg. However, a jury still found NYC Transit was to blame and awarded him $2.3 million.
At a .18 blood-alcohol level, Dibble had twice the legal limit for alcohol in his blood for drivers. Moreover, he could remember nothing from the accident at 1:50 am.
The liability was based on the obligation of the subway to stop when it spots an object on the tracks. It is an interesting variation of the last clear chance concept in torts. The doctrine applies in contributory negligence jurisdictions rather than a comparative negligence jurisdiction. In the latter, such arguments simply go into the mix of the relative negligence of the plaintiffs and defendant. Regardless of Dibble’s obvious negligence, the train company could have avoided the accident.
Key to the verdict was the admission of train operator Michael Moor that he saw what he “thought was garbage on the track” and continued into the station. When he saw the object move, he hit the emergency brake.
Because Moore suffered a stroke before trial, they used his deposition where he admitted that he did not always stop because “there’s garbage all over the place” in the New York system.
The full verdict was for $3.5 million, but it was reduced because the jury found Dibble 35 percent responsible.
The case brings to mind the famous line from Robinson v. Pioche, Bayerque & Co., 5 Cal. 460 (1855) where the court held that a drunk who fell into a manhole could recover under the view that “A drunken man is as much entitled to a safe street, as a sober one, and much more in need of it.”
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