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Family of Robinson Lalin, man dragged to death by Red Line train, sues MBTA

A photo of Robinson Lalin is displayed at a memorial that nephew Kelvin Lalin set up outside the entry gates to the Broadway MBTA station.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The family of Robinson Lalin, the man who was dragged to death by a Red Line train last April after his arm got stuck in the car door, is suing the MBTA.

A complaint filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Wednesday by the Lalin family alleges his death was “caused by the carelessness and negligence of the defendant MBTA,” including the train operator’s failure to check that the doors were clear of passengers before moving forward and the T’s failure to “properly inspect, maintain, repair, and monitor the subway cars and station,” according to the complaint.

One of Robinson Lalin’s two children, Christopher Lalin, and his nephew, Kelvin Lalin, are named in the lawsuit as co-representatives for Robinson’s estate. The family is seeking an undisclosed amount of money and cites economic damages as a result of Lalin’s death, including medical and funeral expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity.

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Benjamin Zimmermann, a lawyer representing the family, said in a statement he hopes the lawsuit will bring justice for Lalin’s family “and some much-needed accountability for the MBTA.”

“The culture of MBTA’s management for decades has been to not apologize, not make amends, and not reach out to the people hurt or killed by the MBTA’s negligence,” he said. “It is the hope that lawsuits like this, together with a new administration and new leadership at the T, may work to change that culture and make the T safe for everyone.”

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo declined to comment on the complaint, but said the agency has “extended its deepest condolences to [Lalin’s] loved ones.” He added that the T is “committed to making safety and reliability improvements to the services it provides.”

“MBTA vehicle maintenance personnel work tirelessly to keep the rapid transit fleet operating in a state-of-good-repair and regularly scheduled inspections of subway cars include the testing and maintenance of door components,” Pesaturo said in a statement. “MBTA trains make thousands of daily trips, carrying hundreds of thousands of riders every day without incident.”

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A Red Line car trapped Lalin’s arm between its doors after he exited the train at Broadway Station around 12:30 a.m. on April 10 and dragged him around 105 feet down the platform, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board. His body was found near the tracks 75 feet inside the tunnel, his hand severed, according to a police report obtained by the Globe. Lalin was 39 years old when he was killed.

In a statement, Kelvin Lalin urged T riders to use caution, recalling his uncle’s tragic death.

“Our safety isn’t certain, and we should all be worried every day we ride the T because it has proven that it does not have our back as riders and it is not to be depended on,” he said. “The T issues are very serious and we must stand up and come together to address it for our friends, loved ones, and every resident in our city.”

Lalin’s death was one in a long series of grave safety issues on the MBTA that spurred the Federal Transit Administration to take an increased oversight role of the agency and conduct a nearly unprecedented federal safety inspection last year. That inspection found that the T’s focus on long-term projects had come at the expense of day-to-day operations and safety.

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Federal investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board, who continue to look into Lalin’s death, have so far said that the car’s door mechanism designed to prevent the train from moving while the doors are open failed. A final NTSB report about the tragedy could come in the summer, a board spokesperson said.

The car Lalin was riding, No. 1510, is among a fleet of around 60 Red Line cars that are more than half a century old. The cars’ expected retirement date, 1994, has been pushed back at least nine times, the Globe found, and they are the second-oldest heavy rail cars the Globe could find still in use by any transit system in the United States.

An MBTA spokesperson said the car involved was inspected two weeks before Lalin’s death and the test did not identify a door problem. After the incident, the doors on all other Red Line cars were tested for this problem, the spokesperson said, and it was not found on any other cars.

Another failure appears to have been on the part of the train operator, the lawsuit alleges. Train operators are responsible for visually confirming that passengers are clear of the doors since the MBTA eliminated train attendants on the Red Line, whose job had been to monitor the doors, in 2012, touting financial savings for the agency.

Car No. 1510 and its pair No. 1511 were removed from service after the tragedy. An MBTA spokesperson said last month the agency does not plan to return the cars to the tracks and has been taking parts from them to support keeping other Red Line cars in service.

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The old cars would have likely already been replaced if the MBTA’s new Red and Orange Line car project had met its delivery deadlines. Instead, the project is years behind schedule. The MBTA has received only 12 of 252 new Red Line cars it ordered from CRRC, the Chinese manufacturing firm assembling the new cars in Springfield.

CRRC’s factory is plagued with quality problems that forced the MBTA to stop deliveries of the new cars in June, the Globe previously reported. Deliveries resumed last month, but at half the pace that the contract calls for.


Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her @taydolven.