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GERMAN-BEY v. AMTRAK

August 18, 1982

EMILY GERMAN-BEY, now known as EMILY BEMPAH, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION and RICHMOND, FREDERICKSBURG AND POTOMAC RAILROAD COMPANY, Defendants


Kevin Thomas Duffy, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DUFFY

KEVIN THOMAS DUFFY, D.J.:

En route by passenger train from her New York home to her mother's house in South Carolina, plaintiff Emily Bempah was slashed in the face by a man wielding a pocket knife. She instituted this diversity action against the National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak"), a District of Columbia corporation, and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad Company ("the Richmond"), a Virginia corporation, alleging negligence and breach of warranty on the part of defendants as the proximate cause of the injuries she suffered from the slashing. Her complaint seeks one million dollars for physical and psychological injuries. In addition, she seeks $25,000 for loss of earning capacity due to disabilities stemming from her injuries. Although acknowledging that plaintiff was slashed aboard their train, defendants deny any liability therefor.

 Beginning June 2, 1982, a two-day nonjury trial was held before me on the issues of defendants' liability and plaintiff's damages. The following shall constitute my findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 I.

 The resolution of the question of liability proceeds from certain facts which are undeniable. On Saturday, August 20, 1977, Ms. Bempah and her two infant children were traveling from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina to see Ms. Bempah's mother. They were peacefully sitting in their assigned seats in car 8315 aboard Amtrak's Silver Meteor train when the attack occurred somewhere outside of Alexandria, Virginia. They did absolutely nothing to provoke the attack by the other passenger, one Robert Sweadner.

 The focus of this phase of the inquiry at trial was the condition of Sweadner when he boarded the train and the activities of railroad personnel immediately before and after the incident in question.

 Robert Sweadner was drunk when he boarded the train in Washington, D.C. He had obtained a ticket but had failed to obtain a reservation for a seat on the train although all seats were supposedly reserved. On the platform at Washington, Sweadner, reeking of alcohol, sought out the train conductor and explained that he had no reservation. The conductor told Sweadner that he could nevertheless get on board the train. The conductor, although denying it at trial, knew or should have known that Sweadner was drunk. After talking to the conductor, Sweadner encountered Alston Scott, one of the railroad's service attendants who directed Sweadner to the car in which Ms. Bempah and her children were seated. Scott recognized that Sweadner was under the influence of alcohol and guided Sweadner to the rear seat which Scott usually occupied during the train ride.

 Shortly thereafter, Scott left Sweadner and the other passengers in the car to their own devices, and at the instruction of the conductor, Scott joined the other attendants in the dining car for supper. The dining car was a number of cars forward of the car in which Ms. Bempah was attacked. Meanwhile, the conductor and the assistant conductor had gone back to the baggage car for some unknown reason.

 Sweadner had brought a pint bottle of Vodka with him on the train. In less than half an hour between 8:59 p.m. when the train left Washington, D.C. and the time it left Alexandria, Virginia, Sweadner finished the whole bottle of Vodka. Although there is no direct evidence as to when he drank the Vodka, the only reasonable inference that I can draw is that it was consumed between the time he boarded the train and the time of the incident. Furthermore, there is no indication of how Sweadner ingested the alcohol, but the inference is that he gulped it directly from the bottle. None of the train personnel could tell how or when it was done since all of them had absented themselves from the car where the drunken Sweadner sat. The other passengers were forward of Sweadner and no one apparently noticed his guzzling.

 Sweadner left the seat into which Scott had guided him and made his way to the forward end of the car to where Ms. Bempah and her children were seated. He sat beside Ms. Bempah's small daughter and mumbled something. Ms. Bempah noticed something very wrong with Sweadner and she squeezed her daughter into the same seat to which she had been assigned. Sweadner then made his way back to the seat to which Scott had originally guided him.

 Soon thereafter, the effect of the alcohol took hold of Sweadner. He got out of his seat cursing and shouting racial epithets and stumbled the full length of the car frightening the other passengers. He then pulled out a pocket knife, staggered up to Ms. Bempah and slashed her at least twice striking her hand and her face.

 None of the train personnel were present to aid or protect Ms. Bempah. Some of the other passengers, however, tried to help her. They apparently gave wide berth to the violent drunken Sweadner who returned to the seat in the back of the car and hid the knife in the seat cushion.

 Meanwhile, Ms. Bempah attempted to get her children out of the car obviously fearing that Sweadner might return and harm them. She fled with her children immediately to the next car forward. There, another passenger took charge of the children and yet another tried to calm the plaintiff. Someone else went seeking the train personnel. In her hysterical flight, Ms. Bempah ran another car forward where she was finally convinced to sit down so that she could be helped. One of the passengers there got some paper towels from the bathroom and wet them in cold water to use as a cold compress.

 A passenger located the service attendant Scott in the dining car and told Scott of what had happened. Scott immediately came to where Ms. Bempah had fled. Scott had been trained in first aid, but, contrary to the railroad's rules that each car have a first aid kit, there was no kit aboard the train except back in the conductor's case in the baggage car. As a result, all Scott was able to do was to continue applying wet paper towels to the wounds. Scott had sent another service attendant to seek out the conductor who finally came up about fifteen minutes later to where Ms. Bempah was located from a baggage car about 16 cars behind. The ...


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