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Metro death lawsuit returns to federal court


A federal appeals court revived yesterday a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Washington's Metro subway system concerning the death of a passenger who had climbed an inoperable escalator in the Bethesda station on a sweltering day.

Richard Hadaway Smith, 37, of Rockville suffered a fatal heart attack eight years ago after walking up an escalator in 96-degree heat. His family filed a $2.2 million suit against the transit system in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

His parents accused Metro officials of being negligent for failing to keep at least one escalator working on June 8, 1998. The lawsuit also alleged that Metro was negligent in failing to post signs or to direct passengers to the station's elevator, which was working. U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. in Greenbelt dismissed the case before trial, ruling that Metro had immunity to such claims.

But yesterday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision and remanded it back it for trial.

The three-judge panel ruled that evidence showing Metro did not follow its maintenance schedule for repairing the escalators could be considered at trial as part of a wrongful death claim.

According to an expert's report, Metro filed to perform mandated biweekly maintenance checks on the escalators in the six months before Smith's death. A spokeswoman for Metro said yesterday that the transit agency's attorneys had not yet reviewed the decision.


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