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Dustin Dibble, Drunk Man Who Lost Leg in Train Accident, Awarded $2.3 Million: Runaway train or runaway jury?

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By Admin on February 19, 2009 11:06 AM

For people who get angry when they hear about someone suing for getting burned by their morning coffee, or getting injured undertaking an extreme sport, etc., etc., a story came out yesterday that might add to their frustration.

CNN reports that a Manhattan jury awarded $2.33 million to Dustin Dibble, who lost his leg after drunkenly stumbling onto the path of an oncoming subway train. The story gave the following background, stating that Dibble fell and "landed in the subway tracks after a late night watching a hockey game at a bar with friends April 23, 2006. A downtown N train ran over him, severing his right leg." The conductor apparently mistook Dibble for "an inert object", whatever that might have been.

Although the result in the case might be offensive to some at first sight, the case does bring up some interesting policy questions for debate. For instance, if one were to say that Dibble was entirely at fault, would it have been preferable to have him behind the wheel of a car? It could be (and perhaps was) argued that he was being responsible by taking public transportation instead of driving, in the first place. Alternatively, should he have taken a cab? If so, would he have all the blame if he drunkenly got hit by a cab while hailing it? One response would be that perhaps Dibble should have chosen to stop drinking before he hit a .18 BAC, but in the end these are all issues the jury (composed of our peers) likely faced when making its decision. Sometimes awards that seem incomprehensible at first glance end up, at least arguably, having a more rational basis.

It should be noted that the jury in this case was not entirely unsympathetic to NYC Transit, finding that Dibble was 35 percent responsible for his own injuries and damages, which reduced the award "from $3,594,943 to $2,336,713." In this case, the jury did not absolve Dibble of fault, but it did apparently buy into arguments that the train conductor was trained to stop the train, and had time to do so, when he saw him on the tracks.

In the end, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has signalled that it intends to appeal the result, so it looks the suit will keep rolling for a while longer.