WASHINGTON – A federal judge has dismissed D.C. government as a defendant in federal lawsuits over the response to a fire that killed a Metro rider and sickened dozens more as they were stuck on a smoke-filled train in 2015.
Scores of riders and the family of Carol Glover, the 61-year-old Alexandria woman who was killed, sued the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and D.C. government after the Yellow Line smoke event. Metro countersued D.C. as well.
District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled on Thursday that the riders and WMATA could not sue D.C. because it is protected by sovereign immunity.
“In the court’s view, the high level strategy and decisions involved in the response to a fire emergency such as this one, in which (D.C. Fire and EMS) officials may have to consider competing demands, availability of resources, coordinating with other agencies, and maintaining the safety of (D.C. Fire and EMS) responders, all in a quickly evolving emergency situation, is clearly the type of activity that justifies official immunity to assure …’fearless, vigorous, and effective decisionmaking’,” the judge’s opinion reads.
The opinion said that an agreement laying out the basics of how area fire departments, including D.C. Fire, and Metro would work together during an emergency did not mandate D.C. firefighters to make any specific decisions or take any specific actions that day.
The suits claimed D.C. was negligent because first responders did not evacuate the train quickly enough and mishandled the response by poorly communicating with Metro staff.
Riders were stuck in the smoke-filled train for up to 45 minutes as they waited for help.
Chutkan’s opinion did not address the merits of the suits against Metro, which continue.
A federal safety investigation found that poor maintenance and ineffective inspections contributed to the electrical fire that caused the smoke.