Woman injured by defunct utility box that fell at subway station suing MBTA

A woman who was injured when a defunct utility box fell and struck her at a subway station earlier this month plans to file a lawsuit against the MBTA, her attorney announced Wednesday.

The woman, Joycelyn Johnson, a 28-year-old PhD student at Harvard University, was passing through Harvard Station on May 1 when the utility box fell from a column. Her attorney, Thomas Flaws, said she plans to sue the under-fire transit agency over the incident.

“I’m doing as well as I can be,” Johnson, who was wearing a sling on one of her arms, told Boston 25 on Wednesday.

She said she was waiting to take the T to Quincy as part of her daily commute when she was injured.

“We’re assuming that there’s a level of safety when we’re going to the train station and when we’re looking to take it. So I did not even think it was something that serious, falling from the sky to hit my shoulder,” Johnson said. “I thought it was initially maybe someone, you know, threw something, or I don’t know.”

“But as I took a step back and I saw the supporting brace and eventually the utility box, I realized that this was really a heavy piece of equipment that I had no idea existed and it looked like it was in disrepair,” Johnson said, adding that the equipment struck her on her shoulder where here clavicle ends, and also on her back.

Currently, Johnson said can only drive with one arm. “It gets really aggravated. There’s a lot of nerve pain, a lot of back pain,” she said. “All in all, it has impacted my daily life.”

Flaws, of the Boston-based Altman Nussbaum Shunnarah Trial Attorneys, noted that his client suffered numerous injuries including a detached clavicle from her shoulder that will require long-term medical treatment, and that the injuries have also impacted her rigorous academic schedule.

Flaws said he’s troubled by the ongoing issues at Harvard station and throughout the overall MBTA transit operation. He said with reasonable attention and maintenance, the incident when his client was injured would have been prevented.

When asked by Boston 25 if he’s surprised that something at the T corroded and fell on his client, Flaws said, “We’re incredibly surprised and bothered by it. I’ve read that they replaced 75 ceiling tiles or so. You would think when they’re going through the safety inspection after a falling ceiling tile, that they would look if there’s anything else that may be at risk of falling. I don’t know what that inspection looked like, because six or eight weeks later, something else and this time, seriously injured someone.”

He said he intends to “find out exactly” what is causing dangerous objects to repeatedly detach or fall from the ceiling at the Harvard station, so that no other riders of the T is injured in this way again.

“It makes us more troubled by it,” Flaws said. “I’ll say it that way, because it’s not something where the T could ever say ‘We couldn’t anticipate this coming.’ It just happened. So they anticipated it coming, I just don’t know what they did to prevent this utility box, which we understand had had no function for 10 years -- why not take it out of there? It’s out of there now, why didn’t that happen eight years ago, 10 years ago?”

Flaws said his firm will furnish a presentment to the MBTA on behalf of their client, which requires a response in a defined period.

After Flaws’ client was struck, the MBTA announced that the box in question was corroded and installed as part of a 2011 pilot program led by the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and funded by the Department of Homeland Security to house sensors capable of detecting and identifying biological agents.

“The boxes have served no purpose since the pilot program ended in 2013,” a T spokesperson said in a statement.

The aging Red Line platform where the incident occurred has additional reported structural deficiencies including a leaking ceiling that resulted in a panel falling on a woman in March.

In response to that incident, the MBTA replaced 76 aging ceiling panels.

The announcement of the impending lawsuit comes just days after Gov. Maura Healey said Massachusetts train stations are in a “state of disrepair.”

“I think everyone’s aware of the economic distress that’s currently taking place in the country, but this is public transportation,” Johnson said. “We’re all relying on this to do our jobs on a daily basis, or to go to school on a daily basis. This is an area with a large accumulation of students. We’re at least assuming that the transit system that we rely on is safe.”

When asked if she feels safe taking the T now, Johnson said, “No.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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