Public transportation is a vital service that benefits the economy and the environment, and supports mobility for individuals who are unwilling or unable, for a variety of reasons, to maintain and drive their own cars. Unfortunately, Atlanta residents who rely on the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system have often found themselves facing unsafe conditions, including problematic maintenance and security standards.
At the Stoddard Firm, we believe public spaces and services should be safely available to everyone, and we’re committed to holding both corporate and government entities accountable when they put the public at risk.
Escalator Maintenance Has Been a Recurring Problem for MARTA
Over the past decade and beyond, maintenance of the elevators and escalators in MARTA stations has been passed back and forth between two contractors: Schindler Elevator Corporation and Elevator Specialists, Inc. In that time, both companies have contributed to MARTA’s sordid history of avoidable escalator accidents.
In November of 2006, a woman was injured on an escalator at Five Points Station when it jerked and stopped abruptly, according to witness accounts. She ultimately won her subsequent lawsuit against MARTA and Schindler, which should have been a wakeup call for them both. Yet barely more than a year later, three MARTA escalators failed on the same day, two of them at Five Points Station. Twelve passengers reported injuries, including a broken leg.
In maintenance records uncovered by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the three faulty escalators was described as having gone into “free fall” a month earlier, in spite of MARTA’s insistence that nothing like this had happened in at least five years. Both MARTA and Schindler contended that Elevator Specialists was the true culprit in this incident, but a court ruling found only MARTA and Schindler to be liable, again, and awarded $1.4 million to the woman whose leg was broken.
That’s not to say that Elevator Specialists has a clean record when it comes to keeping MARTA passengers safe. In perhaps the most disturbing maintenance incident of all, MARTA had to shut down 100 of its escalators in 2010, after a whistleblower accused an Elevator Specialists contractor of deliberately disabling the safety system on at least one escalator, and possibly others that he’d worked on.
It seems that MARTA had been relying for some time on Elevator Specialists for escalator maintenance, following the aforementioned accidents under Schindler. After discovering the sabotaged safety system, however, MARTA ended its contract with Elevator Specialists and began a new one with Schindler, returning responsibility for the escalators to them. Eight months after the switch back to Schindler, another escalator failure, reminiscent of so many others that had happened on Schindler’s watch, occurred at the Lenox station.
In spite of this, Schindler has remained in charge of MARTA’s escalator maintenance and received a modernization contract expected to last through 2026. Meanwhile, accidents have continued occurring on MARTA escalators, including one that caused the amputation of a 3-year-old girl’s foot.
One might almost feel sorry for MARTA, being let down again and again by the external companies entrusted with station safety, except that the corruption surrounding MARTA’s maintenance has come from within as well. In January of 2018, a MARTA executive was convicted of orchestrating an invoice scheme, in which he paid vendors more than half a million dollars for maintenance that was never performed. The investigation found that most of that money ended up in the executive’s own bank account.
Escalators Aren’t the Only Hazard in MARTA Stations
The same year as the alleged escalator sabotage, a 5-year-old boy survived a fall down an elevator shaft at Kensington Station, when the elevator doors mysteriously disengaged. Though the contractor accused of bypassing escalator safety had not worked on any elevators, whatever maintenance the elevator did receive was clearly not adequate to ensure safety.
More recently, in 2018 alone, a maintenance contractor working on the rails was hit by a train at Medical Center Station, a security guard was hit by a fare cart at Lindburgh Station, and a guest fell 20 feet to his death through a missing guardrail at Civic Center Station. The falling victim’s family was awarded $9.6 million for his wrongful death, and the security guard was awarded $1.1 million for his injuries. A case filed by the wife of the contractor hit by the train is still pending.\
Accidents Also Happen Regularly En Route
Once passengers board MARTA vehicles, they face another set of dangers. MARTA buses in particular have been involved in numerous traffic accidents resulting in injuries and property damage. As recently as June of 2019, a MARTA bus “made contact with” a pedestrian, in the words of a MARTA spokesperson acknowledging the incident. The pedestrian had to be treated for foot injuries in a local hospital.
Back in September of 2016, another MARTA bus was involved in a head-on collision that injured twelve MARTA passengers and the driver of the other vehicle. Four months before that, yet another MARTA bus struck a car in the lane next to it while attempting to turn left. The bus driver was cited for making an improper turn. No one was hurt, and MARTA acknowledged responsibility, but what’s troubling about that particular incident is what the driver of the other vehicle had to go through to get MARTA to respond with more than words.
The driver’s car was totaled, and according to his account of events, MARTA took over a month to provide him with a rental car, and then forced him to return it without giving him the promised reimbursement he needed to replace his own car. The driver eventually turned to the press for help, and when a reporter from FOX 5 Atlanta asked a MARTA representative why the payment deadline had been missed, the response blamed the dealership MARTA had promised to send the payment to. In emails provided by the driver, however, MARTA had previously attributed the slowdown to a transition in its own leadership.
In his interview, the driver stated that MARTA’s claims representatives had been unreachable by phone, and expressed his quite reasonable concern that this kind of delay could be life-ruining for someone in a more precarious financial situation than his own.
The MARTA Police Have a Dubious Record of Protecting Commuters from Crime
In addition to accidents, crime continues to be a serious issue for MARTA commuters. According to the MARTA police department’s own public reporting, commuters on MARTA vehicles and property have been subject to an annual average of 50 robberies, 84 aggravated assaults, six cases of arson, and one rape in the years 2014-2018. The aggravated assault statistics are particularly concerning, showing a 54% total increase across those five years. Although homicides on MARTA property are rare according to this internal reporting, 2017 saw an abrupt spike of five cases in a single year.
Two of those 2017 homicides occurred within days of each other, at separate stations, and with no apparent connection between them. The first was a shooting at College Park Station, the second a stabbing on a train bound for Avondale Station. In the stabbing incident, which was caught on MARTA’s security cameras, a passenger apparently refused and argued with a panhandler, followed him when he moved on to another compartment, and then grabbed his clothes, initiating a fight. When the panhandler gained the upper hand, the other passenger drew a knife and stabbed him repeatedly, according to police.
The Reality May Be Significantly Worse than the Numbers
One 2018 investigation by CBS46 indicates that the statistics provided by the MARTA police may not tell the whole story. The investigation examines several lawsuits filed by passengers who claim MARTA failed to protect them from violent crimes. One plaintiff says she was kidnapped from Lindburgh Station and assaulted in 2002. Another says she was kidnapped from an Atlanta station in 2015, beaten, and raped. Yet another suit claims that a man shot two passengers in 2017, one of them fatally. Upon examining MARTA’s public reports, the attorney for the first kidnapping victim found that her incident had been left out of the statistics. This was apparently due to a policy of excluding any cases in which the victim was kidnapped from a MARTA location and taken elsewhere, on the grounds that the crime was no longer on MARTA property.
CBS46 says MARTA did not respond to an investigator’s questions about whether this policy has changed since 2002, but a cursory comparison between MARTA’s more recent statistics and the cases that have made the news cycle suggests that these omissions may still be ongoing. In November of 2016, a man was shot at the H.E Holmes MARTA station and later died of his injuries. A month earlier, another man was found dead in the trunk of a car in the parking lot of the same station. That same November, another man was shot and killed in front of the Five Points station, and a bystander was injured.
Though all three incidents were reported on by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the MARTA police report no homicides at all in 2016. The incident at Five Points may not have been quite within the boundaries of MARTA property, and the man found in the trunk may have been killed elsewhere and dumped at the station, but if MARTA’s rationale for not reporting the fatal shooting at the H.E Holmes station is simply that the victim died in the hospital instead of at the scene, it’s a tenuous reason indeed.
Passengers Have Expressed Serious Concerns over MARTA Police Responsiveness
Reporting aside, other incidents have called into question the MARTA police department’s effectiveness at responding to crimes in progress. In August of 2017, a woman filed a suit against MARTA after a man allegedly “performed a sexually lewd act” while sitting across from her and making eye contact on the train. The woman says she pushed one of the provided red buttons to notify the MARTA police and also alerted the driver, who called central dispatch and received repeated promises that police would be waiting at the next stop, and then the next, and the next. According to the suit, no police ever arrived, the suspect was only arrested after disembarking of his own accord and leaving MARTA property, and MARTA never notified the woman that he had been apprehended.
The Stoddard Firm Has Experience with Negligent Security, Premises Liability, and MARTA Itself
Every organization that invites guests and employees onto its premises is responsible for taking reasonable measures to keep those guests and employees safe from accidents and crime. Learn more about these cases on our premises liability page and negligent security page. Likewise, any organization that operates vehicles is responsible for making sure those vehicles are operated safely. One crime or accident might be an “isolated incident,” but after a danger has made itself known, both private companies and public institutions like MARTA have an obligation to take steps to prevent that same danger from befalling more people in the future. Yet crimes and accidents keep happening on MARTA premises and vehicles, often following repetitive patterns.
As Atlanta locals, the lawyers of The Stoddard Firm understand how scary and frustrating it can be to have to choose between forgoing the benefits of our city’s public transit system and risking injury or death along the way. We’re well-versed not only in the relevant areas of the law but in the state of the MARTA system itself. We know the past cases, and we know how to explain what MARTA could and should have done better to judges and juries in a compelling, understandable manner.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to a crime or accident in a MARTA facility or vehicle, we have the experience you’ll need on your side to get the compensation you deserve. Give us a call today at 678-RESULT, or reach out via our online chat function for a completely free consultation on your case.