A D.C. Superior Court jury ordered the District government yesterday to pay $300,000 to the mother of a 19-year-old Jehovah's Witness who died after refusing a blood transfusion for injuries suffered when he fell down an elevator shaft at a public housing project.
The attorney for the mother of Dwight A. Covington argued during the nearly three-week trial that Covington died after the doors of a third-floor elevator in a Southwest apartment building gave way when the 320-pound Covington accidentally bumped into them as he was talking with friends.
Covington was flown to a hospital in Chicago for special treatment after he refused on religious grounds a doctor's suggestion that he receive a blood transfusion. Covington died on March 11, 1982, four days after the accident.
The jury deliberated for more than a day before finding that the District was liable for Covington's death and that an elevator repair company also named in the suit, Warfield and Sanford Inc., was not.
Attorneys for the city, which operates more than 50,000 public housing units, argued that Covington contributed to his death because he intentionally rammed into the elevator door. Attorneys for Warfield and Sanford argued that Covington contributed to his death by refusing the blood transfusion.
John Conroy, the lawyer for Covington's mother, Mary C. Brown, argued in court papers that the District was "negligent in carrying out its responsibilities" and should have known that the elevator doors were "highly dangerous" and could "come away from their moorings and permit a person to enter into" the elevator shaft if the doors were not properly constructed, installed or maintained.
Covington, who was a senior at Chamberlain Vocational High School, was visiting friends at 1200 Delaware Ave. when he was injured. The building, once one of the worst in the city, has been closed to be converted to housing for the elderly.
James Murphy, a deputy corporation counsel for the city, said the District had not decided whether to appeal the verdict.