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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Large’ Woman’s Subway Injury Won’t Net Award

(CN) - A jury improperly awarded damages to a "large woman" whose leg got stuck between an express train and the subway platform in New York City, an appeals court ruled.

Tamara Howell had sued the New York City Transit Authority in Bronx County Supreme Court just over five years ago after her injury on the No. 4 train.

Before describing how Howell was injured, the Manhattan-based First Appellate Department emphasizes in its Dec. 4 ruling that Howell is "a large woman."

It says she was standing near the doors of an especially crowded train, so she had to step outside of it when it stopped so that other passengers could exit.

While attempting to back out and pivot right, however, Howell failed to clear the gap between the train and the platform. The ruling says "her leg became wedged in the gap at a point two inches below the knee."

Though the jury found the agency 100 percent liable, a five-justice panel of the Appellate Division ordered Howell's case dismissed last month.

"The existence of a gap between the train and the platform, necessary to the operation of the train because the cars must not scrape the platform and must be far enough away to allow for the oscillation and swaying of the train, is insufficient, in and of itself, to establish defendant's negligence," the unsigned Dec. 4 decision states.

Howell's description of the gap as 12 inches wide is unreliable, the court found.

"Significantly, plaintiff did not know the width of her foot and admitted that she could not be certain as to the size of the gap," the justices wrote.

An engineer for the Transit Authority testified that the gap was 3.75 inches, and a police officer who was unable to get Howell free said the space was "really tight."

The size of Howell's calf also puts her 12-inch estimate into question, the court found.

"Had the gap measured 12 inches, plaintiff's calf would have measured approximately 36 inches around, not the approximately 20 inches her doctor reached when he measured her calf three years after the accident," they wrote.

The justices also slammed Howell for not supporting her claim with expert testimony.

"Indeed, with no expert, plaintiff could not prove that the gap, whether it was 12 inches or something smaller, posed a hazard, given the realities of train traffic and engineering," they wrote.

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