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WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY v. BRIGGS


WASHINGTON
METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY v. BRIGGS


February 27, 1998
Record No. 971020

WASHINGTON
METROPOLITAN AREA
TRANSIT AUTHORITY

v.

MICHAEL R. BRIGGS

OPINION BY JUSTICE
LEROY R. HASSELL, SR.
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ARLINGTON COUNTY

Benjamin N.A.
Kendrick, Judge

Present: All the
Justices


In this appeal, we
consider whether the limitation of liability in the Virginia Tort
Claims Act, Code ?? 8.01-195.1,
et
seq., applies to a judgment entered
against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The relevant facts
are not in dispute. Michael R. Briggs filed a motion for judgment
against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
(WMATA) alleging that he was injured when a bus, operated by
WMATA's employee, collided with Briggs' motorcycle. The case was
tried before a jury which rendered a verdict in favor of Briggs
in the amount of $90,000.

WMATA filed a
post-trial motion requesting that the court reduce the verdict to
$75,000 on the basis that WMATA is an agency of the Commonwealth
of Virginia and that an interstate agreement, the Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact, permitted WMATA to
invoke the $75,000 limitation of tort liability contained in Code
? 8.01-195.3.
[1] The trial court denied
WMATA's motion and entered a judgment in favor of Briggs in the
amount of $90,000. WMATA appeals.

Virginia, Maryland,
and the District of Columbia entered into the Washington
Metropolitan Area Transit Regulation Compact with the consent of
the United States Congress. The purpose of this Compact, codified
in Code ?? 56-529 and -530, was to improve transit service
in the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.

Section 80 of the
Compact states:

"Liability
for Contracts and Torts

80. The
Authority shall be liable for its contracts and for its torts
and those of its Directors, officers, employees and agent[s] committed in the conduct of any proprietary function,
in
accordance with the law of the applicable signatory
(including rules on conflict of laws)
, but shall
not be liable for any torts occurring in the performance of a
governmental function. The exclusive remedy for such breach
of contracts and torts for which the Authority shall be
liable, as herein provided, shall be by suit against the
Authority. Nothing contained in this Title shall be construed
as a waiver by the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia
and the counties and cities within the Zone of any immunity
from suit." (Emphasis added).

Code
? 8.01-195.3, which is a part of the Virginia Tort Claims
Act, stated in relevant part:

"Subject to
the provisions of this article, the Commonwealth shall be
liable for claims for money only accruing on or after July 1,
1982, . . . on account of damage to or loss of
property or personal injury or death caused by the negligent
or wrongful act or omission of any employee while acting
within the scope of his employment under circumstances where
the Commonwealth . . . if a private person,
would be liable to the claimant for such damage, loss, injury
or death. However, . . . the
Commonwealth . . . shall [not] be liable for
interest prior to judgment or for punitive damages. The
amount recoverable by any claimant shall not exceed (i)
$25,000 for causes of action accruing prior to July 1, 1988,
$75,000 for causes of action accruing on or after July 1,
1988, or  . . . (ii) the maximum limits of any
liability policy maintained to insure against such negligence
or other tort, if such policy is in force at the time of the
act or omission complained of, whichever is greater,
exclusive of interest and costs."

WMATA argues that it
is an instrumentality of each of the signatory jurisdictions,
including Virginia, and, thus, it is entitled to the benefit of
the $75,000 limitation contained in the Virginia Tort Claims Act.
Continuing, WMATA says that "[a]s a matter of federal law,
WMATA is entitled to the same privileges and immunities as the
Commonwealth of Virginia including the liability cap provided in
. . . Code ? 8.01-195.3." Specifically,
WMATA contends that ? 80 of the Compact permits it to
invoke the limitation of liability in Code ? 8.01-195.3
because WMATA is liable for its torts and those committed by its
agents in the conduct of a proprietary function "in
accordance with the law of the applicable signatory."
Relying upon that phrase, WMATA argues that it is entitled to the
protection of the limitation of liability contained in the
Virginia Tort Claims Act.

Responding, Briggs
argues that ? 80 of the Compact places no limitation on the
amount of compensatory damages that a plaintiff may recover from
WMATA and that ? 80 does not incorporate the damage
limitation contained in the Virginia Tort Claims Act. We agree
with Briggs.

In PEPCO
v.
State Corporation Commission, 221 Va.
632, 635, 272 S.E.2d 214, 215 (1980), we held that WMATA is a
part of the State government. We observed:

"Title III,
Article III, Section 4 of the interstate compact provides
that WMATA 'is hereby created, as an instrumentality and
agency of each of the signatory parties hereto'. Title III,
Article VII, Section 18(a), states that '[t]he General
Assembly of Virginia hereby authorizes and designates the
Authority as the agency to plan for and provide transit
facilities and services for the area of Virginia encompassed
within the [compact] Zone.' Two of the six members of WMATA's
board of directors represent Virginia . . . .
WMATA is vested with the power of eminent
domain . . . . WMATA is funded, in part, by
Virginia through the Northern Virginia Transit District
Commission." (alteration in original).

Even though WMATA is
a part of the State government, WMATA has expressly waived its
right of sovereign immunity for torts committed by its employees
"in the conduct of any proprietary function, in accordance
with the law of the applicable signatory (including rules on
conflicts of laws) . . . ." Code ?? 56-529
and -530. Section 80 of the Compact does not contain any
limitation on the amount of compensatory damages that a plaintiff
may recover from WMATA, and ? 80 does not mention or refer to
the Virginia Tort Claims Act.

Contrary to WMATA's
assertions, the phrase "in accordance with the law of the
applicable signatory" contained in ? 80 does not
incorporate the limitation on damages contained in the Virginia
Tort Claims Act. We are of opinion this language means that
courts in the Commonwealth of Virginia must apply the substantive
tort law governing the conduct of a director, officer, employee,
or agent of WMATA who commits a tort while performing any
proprietary function.

In view of the
foregoing, we need not consider WMATA's remaining contentions.
Accordingly, the judgment of the trial court will be

Affirmed.

 

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Code ? 8.01-195.3 was
amended to permit a claimant to recover a maximum of $100,000 if
the claimant's cause of action accrued on or after July 1, 1993.
Briggs' cause of action arose before the effective date of this
amendment.

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