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‘Honestly ridiculous.’ Harvard graduate student injured by falling box at MBTA station plans to sue.

Joycelyn Johnson at a news conference to announce that she intends to sue the MBTA for injuries she suffered at the Harvard MBTA station. Her attorney Thomas E. Flaws joined her.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Joycelyn Johnson, a Harvard University doctoral candidate injured when obsolete utility equipment fell on her at the MBTA’s Harvard Station, said Wednesday it was “honestly ridiculous” that commuters no longer feel safe on the public transit system.

Johnson, 28, spoke to reporters alongside her lawyer near the Red Line station where on May 1 a box and corroded strapping broke free from a column and struck her while she was standing on the train platform.

“To know that we aren’t able to be safe while taking the transit system is just honestly ridiculous,” she said. “Compared to the New York transit system and the Seattle transit system, Boston’s commuting system as a whole falls short entirely. So I am frustrated.”


Her lawyer, Thomas E. Flaws, of the law firm Altman Nussbaum Shunnarah, said Johnson separated her right shoulder and plans to sue the MBTA to recoup medical costs and hold the agency accountable for what Flaws called a “preventable” equipment failure.

Johnson said on May 1 she was talking on the phone while waiting for a train home to Quincy, her commute for about 10 months during her first year as a student at Harvard. Originally from Atlanta, Johnson previously lived in Seattle and New York, she said.

When the equipment fell on her, Johnson said she felt numb before pain in her shoulder, back, and right arm set in. She said she went to an emergency room twice in the following days and was prescribed pain medication while doctors figure out a treatment plan.

Johnson said she has not felt comfortable taking the subway since her injury and has been driving more.

Flaws said he plans to send the MBTA notice of their intent to sue the agency in the coming days, which he said gives the agency six months to respond before a lawsuit can be filed.


“In the past, there’s been a real gap between what the MBTA says and what they ultimately do,” Flaws said.

Two months before the utility equipment fell on Johnson, another passenger at Harvard Station was nearly struck by a falling ceiling panel.

“We want answers,” Flaws said. “We want to know what was done for maintenance and inspection of the station that could allow multiple things to fall from the ceiling within two months.”

MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo said Wednesday that the transit agency “deeply regrets that this incident occurred.”

“The MBTA’s top priority is delivering safe and reliable service,” Pesaturo wrote in an e-mail. “We continue to work every day to ensure safety for all.”

MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng reached out to Johnson last week, the MBTA said.

Johnson was struck after the straps holding the utility box gave way, causing it to slide down a pole, according to the MBTA.

The box was part of a pilot program by the Department of Homeland Security and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory that used sensors placed inside boxes at Harvard, Porter, and Davis MBTA stations to detect biological agents from around 2011 to 2013, Pesaturo said. All of the utility boxes have since been removed, the MBTA said.

The sensors were removed in 2013 but the boxes remained inside stations until after the incident, officials said.

A group leader at the Lincoln Laboratory, Ben Ervin, previously estimated that the empty boxes weigh between 20 and 30 pounds.


“We want to ensure no rider utilizing public transportation is ever injured in this manner again,” Flaws said in a statement.

The MBTA is facing lawsuits after other incidents. The family of Robinson Lalin, the 39-year-old Red Line passenger who was dragged to death by a train at Broadway Station last year, sued the T in March. Several people injured by a malfunctioning MBTA escalator at Back Bay Station in September 2021 have brought lawsuits against the T.

John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him @JREbosglobe. Taylor Dolven can be reached at taylor.dolven@globe.com. Follow her @taydolven.