Friday, Sept 11–OC Escalator Lawsuit Rejected

OCEAN CITY – A federal judge has abruptly dismissed a $500,000 civil suit filed against the town of Ocean City and a private company by a former Vermont high school student injured in an escalator accident in the Roland E. Powell Convention Center.

In May 2006, several members of a high school band from Vermont, in Ocean City for an annual Youth Music Competition at the Convention Center, were injured when the north escalator to the second floor stopped suddenly and starting running in reverse. Several of the students fell during the accident and some were taken to AGH in Berlin.

Nearly three years to the day of the accident, one of the injured students, Rebecca Beall, of Barre, Vt., filed suit in U.S. District Court claiming negligence against the town of Ocean City and the private ThyssenKrupp Elevator Company, which the town retained to service and maintain the faulty escalator.

In July, attorneys for Ocean City filed a motion for summary judgment in its portion of the case, evoking often-used governmental immunity as one of the primary reasons for seeking the dismissal. Under state law, municipalities such as Ocean City are protected somewhat from liability at incidents at non-profit public facilities because of the services they provide to the greater good. Essentially, the motion to dismiss the case argued if the town was held liable for incidents at its non-profit facilities it might be reluctant to build and operate similar facilities for the community.

Last week, U.S. District Court Judge William D. Quarles, Jr., agreed with the resort’s claim of governmental immunity in the case, citing the annual losses reported by the public facility as reason to dismiss the case.

“The city has a statutory duty to administer and operate the Ocean City Convention Hall,” Quarles’ opinion reads. “The convention center loses more than $2 million per year. It receives grants from the state and city. As a site of conventions, fairs and similar events, the convention center promotes the public welfare. The city has satisfied the criteria for governmental immunity.”

The plaintiffs argued just because thcenter operates in the red, it provides a significant economic boost to the town and its private business sector.

“A municipality is immune if the negligent act was committed in the course of the performance of a purely governmental duty,” the opinion reads. “An act is considered governmental when it is sanctioned by legislative authority, is solely for the public benefit, not for profit, tends to benefit the public health and promote the welfare of the whole public, and has no element of private interest.”