Boston commuter train evacuated after fire

Yesterday, 200 people were briefly evacuated from Boston’s MBTA Orange Line after a small fire broke out on the tracks, the Boston Globe reported. The fire, which could have caused a catastrophic accident, was located just south of the Chinatown station.

The fire occurred at about 3:20 p.m. when grease that had built up in the track area was ignited when a train passed over it. Power in the area was immediately turned off when the fire was discovered, a spokesman for MBTA said.

Apparently, witnesses in the Chinatown station reported seeing smoke. A train heading north to the station was safely evacuated and the train was taken out of service. No one was hurt or injured as a result of the fire and the train services resumed about an hour and a half after the incident, the spokesman said.

By the time the evening commute came, commuters only experienced about a ten to 15 minute delay, the Boston Globe reported.

Luckily, people acted fast in this situation to avoid what could have been a very bad accident. This scenario brings an important tort law case to mind: Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928). The case involved a woman who was injured while waiting for a train.

Two men ran by the woman to catch the train and as they were jumping on, two guards helped the second man onto the train, who happened to be carrying a small box of fireworks. In the process, the man dropped the box onto the tracks and the fireworks exploded, causing the woman, many feet away, to be injured.

The woman brought a successful personal injury lawsuit against the train company, which was appealed by the railroad company, who said that they owed no duty of care to the woman.

The appeals court found that in order for negligence to exist in a personal injury lawsuit, there must have been a duty that was owed and breached, and that the injury could have been avoided if the defendant had been following that duty.

To establish if the duty exists, the court created the Zone of Danger rule, which said that the danger or risk associated with a danger or risk is that which a reasonable person would foresee arising from his or her actions (or inactions).

Because the railroad workers could not reasonably foresee their actions causing harm to the woman, they had not acted negligently.

Source: Boston Globe, “200 evacuated from Boston T after small fire,” Associated Press, 3/28/2011.