The New York Appellate Division, First Department, recently overturned a $3.5 million verdict in a train accident case. The jury in the case returned a verdict in favor of an intoxicated 22-year-old whose foot was severed after falling on a subway track. The train operator testified that he saw what looked like garbage on the tracks from a distance away, but as the train proceeded, he realized it could have been a person. Once he realized it could be a person, he applied the emergency brake.
Plaintiff and defendant called experts who testified regarding subway train procedures, stopping distances, and reaction time. At the close of evidence, both sides move for directed verdict. Both applications were denied. The jury apportioned fault 65% to defendant and 35% to plaintiff. Defense counsel moved to set aside the verdict, which was denied.
On appeal, the First Department overturned the verdict as being based on insufficient evidence as a matter of law. Plaintiff’s expert reportedly testified based on an “average reaction time” of one second. The Court reasoned, “…in determining that the defendant’s train operator failed to exercise reasonable care because he could have stopped, the jury improperly equated negligence with possession of the motor skill that is essentially a reflex action.”