Costs Keep Mounting for Most Expensive Text Message Ever

mbta green linePhoto by Counterfactual via Flickr


In 2009, babyfaced MBTA operator Aiden Quinn caused a giant accident when he had his eyes glued to his cell phone’s screen rather, than, you know, the various control signs that alert the T’s driver when he’s about to ram into another train. The result: $10 million in damage to the Green Line and 49 people hospitalized. Descriptions make it sound like a train crash from an old Keanu Reeves movie. You know the one.

Yesterday, the first of the lawsuits against the MBTA went to a jury, which awarded the defendant just over $1.2 million in damages, according to a story in the Globe. Counting the nine cases that have settled for an average of $31,000, according to the MBTA’s spokesman, that’s $11.5 million in cash, plus the untold hospital bills of 49 injured people, plus the pending lawsuits from 14 additional stricken riders. This may well be the most expensive text message in history. And it’s probably going to get more expensive. Much more.

This was the first suit that went to a jury, and the cash payout was almost 40 times higher than the settlement amount. According to the Globe, the MBTA had offered to settle with the plaintiff for $100,000 but she declined, went to trial, and got 10 times more. My guess is that’s all the other 14 plaintiffs need to hear when they’re deciding to take the MBTA’s offer.

None of this is to diminish the woman’s pain — the testimony makes her post-injury life sound pretty lousy — and now some lawmakers are speaking out against Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to cap damages in T lawsuits at $100,000. The Patrick Administration’s proposal is designed to save the taxpayer-bailed-out T about $4 million per year. It would also put a hard ceiling on the values of the plaintiff’s wrecked lives.

All this for a message that just couldn’t wait. The message that cost taxpayers all these millions: The driver’s note to his girlfriend after he’d already called her and left a message. Some things can wait.