DC claims immunity from L’Enfant smoke suits

WASHINGTON — The District is shielded from lawsuits tied to the deadly Metro smoke incident near L’Enfant Plaza two years ago, it claims, because the Fire Department has the same responsibilities to rescue Metro riders as it does to rescue anyone else.

A motion filed Friday asked a judge to dismiss lawsuits filed by people injured in the smoke incident and by the family of Carol Glover, who was killed. The filing also asked a judge to dismiss Metro’s efforts to place legal blame on the District for the failed rescue.

“Whether the persons needing emergency services are Metro passengers or other members of the public, such as passengers injured in a motor vehicle accident or residents of a burning house, the services that [Fire and Emergency Medical Services] have a duty to provide are the exact, same  rescue services,” the city argued.

That is important because the District has immunity from lawsuits in cases where the problem arises from city employees who are performing certain public duties.

“District of Columbia law is clear: The District of Columbia may not be sued for negligently performing services that it provides to the general public, such as fire and emergency rescue services. In particular, the public duty doctrine bars suits against the District that allege that the District took too long to respond to an emergency (or failed to respond at all),” the filing said.

Metro has argued in its own filings that the District has a special responsibility to Metro based on regional agreements with fire chiefs. Metro also said it had no responsibility as an agency to help riders escape a smoke or fire incident.

“But the duty to rescue Metro passengers in a safe and efficient manner is no greater or different than the duty that the District’s emergency responders owe to any member of the general public,” the District responded.

Metro had also argued that it might have its own fire department if not for the regional agreements.

“WMATA is no different than any other member of the public – no other member of the public in the District has its own fire department, and must necessarily rely on the District to provide those services,” the District filing said.

Those injured in the incident and the family of Carol Glover said the District also had a special responsibility to them to properly respond to the incident. The D.C. Fire commander on scene rolled up his window in the face of a Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief several times.

The District filing argued there is no special responsibility and that none of the riders had individual expectations from direct, repeated interactions with the Fire Department that led them astray.

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