MARTA settles lawsuits in contractor’s death for $17 million

MARTA and its insurer will pay $17 million to settle lawsuits stemming from a contractor's death near Medical Center station in 2018.  (File photo by Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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MARTA and its insurer will pay $17 million to settle lawsuits stemming from a contractor's death near Medical Center station in 2018. (File photo by Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

MARTA and its insurer will pay $17 million to settle lawsuits stemming from the death of a contractor.

Robert Smith of Griffin, 38, was working along the tracks near Medical Center station in June 2018 when a MARTA train struck a vehicle he had been operating. The vehicle then struck Smith, who died from his injuries.

A federal investigation later found human error caused the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board said two MARTA employees failed to follow numerous procedures designed to protect people working along the tracks.

When the NTSB released its report, MARTA said the employees deemed responsible no longer worked for the agency. And it said it had taken steps to improve safety, including additional training and safety briefings.

Smith’s widow, Michelle Smith, filed a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court in 2018, saying MARTA was negligent in his death. Among other things, the lawsuit said the agency failed to ensure a safe workplace.

On Thursday, the MARTA board of directors approved a $5 million payment to settle all claims associated with Smith’s death — including a separate lawsuit against the individual employees. The agency’s insurer, Zurich Insurance Group, will pay an additional $12 million.

MARTA declined to comment on the lawsuit settlement.

Darl Champion, Michelle Smith’s attorney, said Robert Smith was “a loving father, husband, son, brother, friend and co-worker.” He said MARTA and the insurer “took full responsibility and acknowledged the multiple errors that its employees committed.”

“While no amount of money will ever fill the tremendous void his loss has left in the lives of his wife, children and family and friends, this settlement allows Michelle and her children to have closure and financial security,” Champion said.