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Hardnett-Majette v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 30, 2017



          Lawrence E. Kahn U.S. District Judge.


         Plaintiff Rhonda Hardnett-Majette commenced this action against defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation ("Amtrak") for an alleged slip and fall at the Albany/Rensselaer Train Station. Dkt. No. 2 ("Complaint"). Presently before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 14 ("Motion"); see also Dkt. Nos. 14-11 ("Memorandum"), 14-10 ("Statement of Material Facts"), 19 ("Response"), 20 ("Reply")- For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted in part, and denied in part.


         A. Factual Background

         On December 23, 2014, Plaintiff arrived at the Albany/Rensselaer train station for a trip to Elyria, Ohio to visit her mother. Dkt. No. 14-5 ("Plaintiff Deposition") at 24:9-22. Plaintiff arrived at the train station at approximately 6:00 PM. Li at 25:8-14. It had been drizzling all day and the light rain continued as Plaintiff arrived at the station. Id. at 26:19-27:18. As Plaintiff walked onto the platform, she observed that the floor was wet. Li at 32:20-33:18, 39:8-13. That day, the car in which Plaintiff was ticketed was not aligning with the station platform due to construction. Id. at 61:6-22. A conductor instructed her to enter a different car and travel through the train to enter the sleeper car. Id. at 40:11-14. According to Plaintiff, this construction resulted in a larger than normal gap between the train and the platform. Id. 61:5-62. Plaintiffs husband accompanied her to the entrance of the car and witnessed the fall. Li at 40:15-41:17, 50:1-7. Also present were two Amtrak employees, one outside the entrance to the car and another just inside the train vestibule. Id. at 47:1-8. The employee inside the vestibule told Plaintiff to "[w]atch [her] step" as she boarded. Id. at 46:19-24. Plaintiff noticed the gap between the platform and train and that the entrance to the train was wet. Id. at 42:5-8, 52:6-10.

         As Plaintiffs right foot made contact with the train, she slipped, and her entire right leg fell through the gap. Id. at 42:15-43:18. Plaintiffs left leg remained on the platform splayed behind her as her right leg hung between the train and platform. Id. at 42:15-23, 48:18-49:11. Plaintiff alleges that the gap was large enough to fit her entire body. Id. at 43:22-44:2. Plaintiff has a forty-five inch waistline, and she has estimated the gap to be 14.3 inches wide-the diameter of her body. Resp. at 4. Plaintiffs husband stated that he "thought she was going to fall through" the gap to the track below and estimated that the gap was "no more than a foot." Dkt. No. 14-7 ("Majette Deposition") at 26:3-7, 35:13-17. According to Defendant's expert witness, the gap at the Albany/Rensselaer Station is at least seven inches wide as required by New York Rail Road Law. Dkt. No. 14-9 ("Torisno Affidavit") ¶¶ 5-8. Defendant has not provided the actual or theoretical maximum gap size at the time of the accident or any other time. Id; Reply at 9.

         Plaintiffs husband and an Amtrak employee pulled Plaintiff out of the gap. PL Dep. at 42:15-23. She was then offered medical treatment, but declined. Id. at 53:20-54:10. As Plaintiff walked to her seat, she experienced burning pain in her right leg. Id. When she took her seat, Plaintiff rolled up her pant leg and found that her right leg had been scraped and bruised by the fall. Id. at 55:12-56:1. Plaintiff later assisted an Amtrak employee in filling out an accident report in which she stated that the causes of her fall were the presence of the gap and the wet condition of the train and platform. Dkt. No. 14-6 ("Accident Report") at 1-2.[1]

         When Plaintiff arrived at her destination the following day, her right leg was severely bruised and she experienced pain in her left knee. Pl. Dep. at 68:12-22. Upon disembarking, Plaintiff went to the hospital and she was given a wrap for her left knee and told to ice and elevate her right leg. Id. at 69:3-13. Plaintiff sought medical treatment a month later from an orthopedist for pain in her left knee. Id. at 71:7-72:4. An MRI of her left leg showed torn ligaments and tendons, and was given a cortisone shot, which alleviated the pain. Id. Approximately eleven months later, Plaintiff began experiencing pain and mobility problems again in her left knee and sought care from multiple doctors. Id. at 73:7-74:5. It was at this point that she brought suit against Defendant. Id. at 80:5-20.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit in Schenectady County Supreme Court on February 17, 2016, and it was removed to the Northern District of New York on April 6, 2016. Dkt. No. 1 ("Notice of Removal"); Compl. at 2.[2] The Complaint asserts that Defendant negligently maintained the premises, causing Plaintiff to fall between the train and the platform. Id. ¶ 4. On February 17, 2017, Amtrak moved for summary judgment, arguing primarily that it cannot be liable for negligence because it complied with all legal standards for gap width between the platform and train. Mem. At 11-12.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure instructs courts to grant summary judgment if "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Although "[f]actual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary" will not preclude summary judgment, "summary judgment will not lie if. . . the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Taggart v. Time, Inc., 924 F.2d 43, 46 (2d Cir. 1991) ("Only when no reasonable trier of fact could find in favor of the nonmoving party should summary judgment be granted.").

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and of identifying those portions of the record that the moving party claims will demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Similarly, a party is entitled to summary judgment when the nonmoving party carries the ultimate burden of proof and has failed "to establish the existence of an element ...

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