Jury says MARTA, contractor must pay woman $1.4 million for escalator injury

A  jury has hit MARTA and one of its contractors with a $1.4 million verdict in a lawsuit that charged they did not properly maintain an escalator, resulting in serious injury to a woman.

The Fulton County jury deliberated nearly seven hours Thursday before returning the verdict, said Joe Fried, one of the lawyers for the plaintiff, Patricia Weeks.

The Red Bay, Ala., woman's leg was broken when an escalator at the Five Points Station suddenly ran in reverse on Dec. 31, 2007, spilling passengers onto the landing below. The accident injured more than a dozen people. Most of the injuries were minor.

Weeks and her lawyers, Fried and Michael Goldberg, contended MARTA's contractors, Elevator Specialists Inc. and Schindler Elevator Corp., failed to perform proper maintenance. The jury found no liability against Elevator Specialists. They found that Schindler Elevator Corp., which had taken over the maintenance of the Five Points Station escalator from Elevator Specialists in December 2007, shared responsibility.

MARTA and Schindler, both represented by lawyer Woody Sampson, tried to show that Elevator Specialists was the primary culprit. Attempts to reach Sampson for comment were unsuccessful.

“I think the jury thought MARTA and Schindler were ganging up on ESI,” Fried said. “MARTA, in its opening statements, for the first time accepted responsibility – while a week before in a court filing it was not accepting responsibility. Then MARTA said there is somebody here who is not accepting the responsibility (Elevator Specialists)."

Attempts to reach MARTA officials for comment on maintenance on its 149 escalators were unsuccessful. In March, MARTA said it spent approximately $1 million on an escalator safety review, including inspections and repairs, after dismissing Elevator Specialists as its escalator contractor. MARTA said the contractor had intentionally bypassed safety controls on an escalator in the Dunwoody rail station.

In 2008, a jury awarded $525,000 to another MARTA patron who said her neck was broken when a Peachtree Center station escalator sped up and ran wildly forward, dumping riders onto the platform in 2003.

"The verdict was a wake-up call to Schindler, who still has the contract to make sure this never happens again and to MARTA to make sure there is adequate oversight over its contractors," Goldberg said.