Partners Kimberly Chin and Mark Hazelwood Secure Defense Verdict in BART Robbery Case
On January 22, 2020, Partners Kimberly Chin and Mark Hazelwood obtained a defense verdict in a common carrier case arising out of third-party criminal activity for San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (“BART”) in Stapp, et al. v. Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG17875219.
On April 22, 2017, Plaintiffs Russell, Patricia, and Amanda Stapp (“the Stapps”) boarded a BART train in San Francisco to return home to Dublin, California. When the train pulled into Coliseum Station, the Stapps noticed a large group of African American juveniles on the platform. They claimed the group banged on the train car and were threatening and aggressive. When the train doors opened, several of the juveniles violently attacked Mr. Stapp and robbed him and Mrs. Stapp.
Just minutes before this robbery, the group of juveniles had entered into Coliseum Station without paying fare. A BART station agent who observed the group of juveniles evade fare immediately called BART Police. BART police were en route to Coliseum Station when the Stapps’ robbery occurred. Surveillance video revealed that the assault and robbery itself lasted less than a minute, and the group of juveniles – from entry to exit – spent approximately seven minutes in Coliseum Station. BART police were at Coliseum Station minutes after being dispatched and later apprehended two of the assailants. Those individuals were prosecuted and convicted of felonies.
The Stapps alleged that BART was responsible for failing to prevent their assault and robbery based on the response of BART’s station agent and train operator. They claimed that BART’s station agent should have done more than call BART police when he observed the fare evasion, and that the train operator, based on activity of the platform, should have stopped before Coliseum Station, run through Coliseum Station without stopping, or not opened the doors of the train. They asserted both employees should have known that an assault and robbery was going to occur based on their own observations so that BART could have protected the Stapps and stop the assault and robbery from occurring.
At trial, the evidence showed that BART’s employees followed all relevant policies and that based on their individual observations, they could not have reasonably foreseen that an assault and robbery would occur. In particular, the evidence showed that as the train pulled into the station, there was only approximately 10 seconds of time when the train operator could have observed the group of juveniles, and during that time, there was no banging on the train or threatening and aggressive behavior.
Of issue in the trial were the causal connection between fare evasion and crime, the admissibility of prior incidents of robbery, and the scope of expert testimony. Prior to trial, Ms. Chin and Mr. Hazelwood successfully excluded any claim or argument that fare evasion was a crime or that it caused crime. They also limited the admissibility of evidence relating to prior incidents of robbery so that this evidence was reduced to a discreet stipulation. Finally, they were successful in limiting the scope of the Stapps’ expert testimony so that the expert did not testify at trial, and argued successfully to allow the testimony of BART’s accident reconstruction/human factors expert.
After a six-day jury trial, the jury returned a defense verdict after less than three hours of deliberation. The jury found that BART was not negligent, and judgment was entered in favor of BART.