CHICAGO -- A state appellate court has found the Chicago Transit Authority is not responsible for the death of a man who fell onto the electrified “third rail” while allegedly experiencing diabetic shock.
According to surveillance video footage, Jerome Anderson spent more than 30 minutes wandering a CTA platform after purchasing his fare. He boarded none of the 11 trains that came and went during that time and appeared to be unnoticed by the throngs of people moving about the platform. Eventually, Anderson is seen on the video drinking from a bottle or can, dropping the container, and then stepping on or tripping over it, precipitating his fall onto the rails.
Anderson’s sister Carolyn sued the CTA for negligence, arguing it was clear from her brother’s increasingly erratic behavior on the platform that he was sick and required medical attention.
James D. Montgomery
“[The] plaintiff alleged that during decedent’s 30 minutes on the platform, he was having a ‘medical emergency’ as a result of his diabetic condition, although plaintiff did not attach any documentation or autopsy reports in support of that allegation,” Justice Terrence J. Lavin wrote in the opinion of the Illinois First District Appellate Court. “Specifically, it is alleged that he was ‘in an obvious state of distress due to diabetic shock,’ which caused his unusual behavior as noted on the video, prevented him from ‘standing upright and boarding a train,’ and led to his fall onto the tracks, where he died.”
Carolyn Anderson alleged the CTA was negligent in that no CTA employee approached her brother despite signs he may be having a medical emergency, and no one called for an ambulance or medical help. She also said the CTA should have better monitored the platform and should have turned off the third rail when it became clear her brother was stumbling around the platform.
“It is noteworthy that in plaintiff’s complaint, other than the failure to monitor [or] summon medical aid, there is no allegation that decedent’s death was directly caused … by the conduct of another person,” Lavin wrote. “There is no allegation that he was pushed, pulled or lured onto the tracks. There is no allegation of a claimed defect on the platform itself. …Finally, there is no allegation that the CTA failed to warn decedent of the danger of the electrified third rail.”
The appellate court upheld the circuit court’s decision to dismiss the complaint. The courts disagreed on the definition of Jerome Anderson’s role. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff that because her brother had purchased his fare and approached the platform with the intent to board a train, he was a passenger. However, the appellate court found that because Anderson never made a move to actually board a train he was not a passenger. Under state law, common carriers such as transit authorities bear a higher burden to protect their passengers than members of the general public.
Because Jerome Anderson was not a passenger, the appellate court reasoned, he was not entitled to “the highest duty of care” but only to “ordinary duty of care.” Regardless, both courts agreed, there was no way for the transit authority to know Anderson was diabetic and no way it could have protected him from the series of events that led to his death.
The appellate justices found it is unreasonable and unrealistic to imagine that an agency as vast as the CTA could effectively monitor every person on its premises for signs of medical distress. And as not only CTA employees, but also droves of passengers, passed by Anderson without appearing to notice him, the symptoms of his personal emergency may not have been as obvious as they appeared to his family.
“The bus stations and train platforms of Chicago have plenty of people who aren’t acting in an entirely normal way, so [the] decedent’s behavior, even if specifically observed, would not look that out of place,” Lavin wrote. “The CTA was not in the best position to monitor and maintain decedent’s health. …The CTA does not have a duty to scan its platforms for conditions or risks which are, or should be, known or obvious to the customer. This includes individual medical maladies and not standing so near the edge of a platform over train tracks when feeling ill.”
Justices Aurelia Pucinski and Michael B. Hyman concurred in the court’s opinion.
The plaintiffs have been represented by attorneys from the firm of James D. Montgomery & Associates, of Chicago.