BART to Pay $9.15 Million to Settle Case of Man Dragged by Train

A partially filled train readies to leave the BART Powell Street station in San Francisco, on Feb. 11, 2020. (Scott Strazzante/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)


BART has agreed to the costliest legal settlement in its half-century history in a case involving a passenger who was severely injured when he was shut in a train door and dragged along a platform in downtown San Francisco.

The agreement, negotiated late last year and made public Wednesday, means the transit agency will pay $9.15 million to David Nelson, 61, a San Francisco resident critically injured in the incident at the Powell Street station on Feb. 11, 2021.

Nelson’s lawsuit said he was getting off a train at the station, and struggling with his belongings, when the incident occurred.

Nelson’s attorney, John Sweeney of Beverly Hills, said his client had removed his bike from the car first, then gone back to get a bag and other items that remained aboard.

Eventually, Nelson found himself standing in the door as it began to close, Sweeney said.

“His trench coat got caught in the closing door,” Sweeney said. Nelson was dragged along the platform, with his leg caught between the platform and the car as the rapidly accelerating train departed the station.

Nelson’s leg injuries were so extreme that doctors needed to amputate the limb above the knee.

The most egregious part of the incident, Sweeney said, was that the BART operator had received an automated notification that there was an obstruction in the door before he started the train.

“There are several fail-safe mechanisms in place so that this kind of thing would not happen,” he said, including an audible alarm if something is preventing a door from closing.

“The trains cannot start without the operator sticking their heads out the window and doing a look-back and making sure that there’s no door obstruction and no one standing on the safety strip” along the platform, Sweeney said. “Only after he’s done his look-back can he push the button to close the door.”

‘There are several fail-safe mechanisms in place so that this kind of thing would not happen … Only after [the train operator’s] done his look-back can he push the button to close the door.’

– John Sweeney, attorney for David Nelson

In the February 2021 incident, Sweeney said, the operator “pushed the button before Mr. Nelson had fully gotten off the train. His excuse in the deposition was that he just didn’t see him, even though there was an audible alarm.”

Sweeney said that in agreeing to the settlement, BART did not admit liability in the case. In response to questions, BART confirmed the amount of the settlement but offered no further statement.

The $9.15 million settlement is BART’s largest-ever payout in a legal case.

In 2020, a federal jury ordered the agency to pay $7.2 million in the death of Sahleem Tindle, the victim of a 2018 BART police shooting in West Oakland.

BART settled a pair of lawsuits brought by the family of Oscar Grant, whom a BART officer shot to death at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on New Year’s Day 2009, for a total of nearly $3 million.

In 2016, the district agreed to pay $3.1 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit involving BART Police Sgt. Thomas Smith, who was fatally wounded by a fellow officer while executing a search warrant in 2014.

The agency paid $1.35 million in a lawsuit brought by Megan Sheehan, who was seriously injured when a BART police officer slammed her face-first into a floor at Santa Rita Jail in March 2014.