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Bode & Grenier is pleased to announce another victory for a client today, as the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a $675,000 jury verdict in a negligence suit against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). (Sibert-Dean v. WMATA, D.C. Cir. 2013)

According to court documents, the client was injured in 2006 when a WMATA bus driver collided with a car that was making a turn in front of the bus. The collision ejected plaintiff from her seat and caused her to strike her head, neck, and shoulder against a pole in the bus. As a result of the collision, plaintiff suffered life altering injuries, including a stroke that left her with partial paralysis and difficulty walking. Plaintiff persuasively showed at trial that the bus driver was distracted and failed to pay full attention to the road as he pulled away from the bus stop because he had been watching a group of girls at a bus stop.

On appeal, WMATA claimed that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that violation of two D.C. traffic regulations was negligence per se, instead of just evidence of negligence, because the regulations “merely restate the common law standard itself.” McNeil Pharm. v. Hawkins, 686 A.2d 567, 579 (D.C. 1996). The two regulations at issue were 18 D.C.M.R. § 2206.1 and 18 D.C.M.R. § 2213.4. Section 2206.1 states that “[n]o person shall start a vehicle which is stopped, standing, or parked unless and until the movement can be made with reasonable safety.” Section 2213.4 states that “[a]n operator shall, when operating a vehicle, give full time and attention to the operation of the vehicle.”

In a decision with wide ranging precedential value to plaintiffs in D.C., the appeals court concluded that a negligence per se instruction was proper with respect to 18 D.C.M.R. § 2213.4, requiring a driver to pay “full time and attention,” because it does not merely restate the basic common law duty of reasonable care. The court adopted one of Plaintiff’s main arguments in opposing the appeal by finding, “that it is one thing to ask whether a driver has given reasonable attention to the task at hand. It is quite another to ask whether a driver has given full attention to his task.” This holding makes it clear that if a jury finds that a driver in D.C. gave anything less than full time and attention to driving, they must find the driver negligent. With distracted driving a growing safety concern on our streets, this holding hopefully makes our streets a little safer and resolves any doubt for future plaintiffs seeking to have the jury instructed that they must find a distracted driver negligent. (Sibert-Dean v. WMATA, D.C. Cir. 2013)

Attorneys Peter Grenier and Jacob Lebowitz handled the case at trial and on appeal.

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