Jaccolah Johnson, by and through her Guardian and Conservator, Rachel Tyler vs. MARTA, Superior Court of Fulton County, State of Georgia, Civil Action File No. 2017-CV-287279
On November 8, 2018, a Fulton County jury returned a record verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding damages to the plaintiff of $25,000,000. The jury also found plaintiff to be 25% responsible, and the verdict was reduced accordingly to $18,750,000.00. This is the largest jury verdict ever recovered against the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA).
Jaccolah Johnson, through her Guardian and Conservator, her daughter, Rachel Tyler, are represented by Atlanta Personal Injury attorney, Donald W. Singleton, of Singleton Law Firm, LLC. Mr. Singleton has been practicing personal injury law in Atlanta for thirty (30) years. He specializes in cases involving severe injury and wrongful death.
Following the case’s trial, the Court awarded attorney’s fees of $3,250,000 and expenses in the amount of $63,040.25. The Judge granted the fees under the plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s fees based upon MARTA’s failure to accept the plaintiff’s Offer of Judgment under O.C.G.A. section 9-11-68. Plaintiff had offered to settle the case for $5,000,000. MARTA ignored the offer, and the case proceeded to trial.
Mobility Services program
The case involved MARTA’s Mobility Services program, which caters to paying public transportation users who need a little extra time or assistance because of various mobility or other health issues. And so it was for Jaccolah Johnson when she arranged to be transported by one of MARTA’s Mobility Services buses.
Although MARTA policies and training required the driver to “shadow” passengers when exiting the bus—mostly because of an awkward and new design of the entry/exit steps on this particular bus – MARTA’s employee here did no such thing. The predictable result was that Johnson, given her well-documented mobility issues, stumbled and fell, striking her head on the concrete curb below. Within hours she developed a brain bleed that necessitated emergency surgery to save her life but left Johnson functionally unconscious.
Jaccolah Johnson – the wonderful woman
By all accounts, Johnson- a bubbly and wonderful person—was left immobile, unresponsive, and required 24/7 care. Surprising no one, given the nature of her injury, shortly after the trial of the case in the fall of 2018, Ms. Johnson died.
Jaccolah Johnson was 66 years old when she fell while exiting a MARTA paratransit bus on January 24, 2016.
Predictably, MARTA hired new lawyers, filed a Motion For New Trial, and objected to the attorney’s fees award. This Motion was denied, and MARTA filed a Notice of appeal on September 3, 2020. MARTA’s opening appeal brief was filed on December 14, 2020, and the plaintiff’s response brief was filed on January 4, 2021. The Georgia Court of appeals case number is A21A0626.
The case is an important one for Georgia citizens, particularly for those with disabilities who use MARTA for public transportation. The Court of appeals has granted MARTA’s request for oral argument.
In its’ appeal, MARTA argues that it did not breach a duty owed to Johnson because it lacked knowledge of any specific infirmities that would require assisting her in disembarking from the bus. Additionally, MARTA argues that the trial court erred in charging the jury on spoliation of evidence related to the missing potions of the video from the bus that showed the fall.
At trial, the jury heard evidence that MARTA lost or destroyed the entire video file and only preserved that portion of the video that showed Ms. Johnson falling from the bus. Lastly, MARTA appeals the size of the attorney’s fees awarded to plaintiff’s counsel, arguing that the amount is too and was not correctly calculated by the trial judge.