While there are many news articles about car crashes between privately-owned vehicles and vehicles owned by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), or the “T” as it is commonly called, there has been a renewed interest in a serious accident involving a street car that occurred in Boston 100 years ago. This accident resulted in 46 deaths and is considered as the city’s largest catastrophe to be forgotten by time.
As discussed in a recent news article from Bostinno, on November 6, 1916, a Boston trolley car was filled with commuters during evening rush hour. This was Election Day, and the contest that year was between Woodrow Wilson, who obviously won the election, and Justice Charles Evans Hughes of the United States Supreme Court. The polls had just closed prior to the streetcar crash.
This year was also noteworthy, as the Boston Red Sox had just won the World Series for the second time in as many years, and Babe Ruth had yet to be traded to the Yankees, starting what would later come to be known as the Curse of the Bambino.
There were 70 people on the streetcar, even though it was only rated to carry just under half of that load. As the streetcar approached the drawbridge at Summer Street, the weight made it too difficult for the streetcar to stop, and it crashed through the warning gates, went up the now elevated roadway, and crashed into the river, along with all its passengers. While many were able to swim to safety, the majority of the passengers could not and in a short period of time, 46 people had drowned, making this what the Boston Globe called “the greatest catastrophe” ever to take place in the city. This was prior to the MBTA being formed, and the company was called the Boston Elevated Rail Company. There was a criminal trial for the driver, and a jury found him not guilty. He then went to serve in World War One and later worked for the company as a stockroom clerk. He never drove a railcar again.
While this accident was considered all but forgotten, there are many accidents involving the MBTA that occur each year. In some cases, we see pedestrians being hit by buses. We also see accidents involving the modern T trolleys, the subway system, and the commuter rail train. In some ways, these accidents are like standard accidents, but they can also be a lot more complicated. One of the reasons for this is because the MBTA may be able to claim they are protected by immunity through a doctrine known as sovereign immunities. In this context, sovereignty is a designation given to a municipal government (the City of Boston) or a city agency.
Under the laws of the Commonwealth, as our Boston MBTA accident lawyers can explain, some city agencies are considered “political subdivisions” of the City of Boston or the Commonwealth and are extended these additional protections. This does not mean you do not have a case, but it does mean you should discuss this issue during your initial consultation if it applies to your situation.
If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
100 Years Ago, A Boston Streetcar Tragedy Killed 46, October 31, 2016, By Alex E. Weaever, Bostinno
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Report: Fall River Teen Killed in Car Crash on Way to Prom, June 26, 2016, Boston Car Accident Injury Lawyer Blog