SEPTA – the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority – provides several different modes of transportation for residents in the Philadelphia area. Among these are SEPTA buses, trolleys, and trains. While public transportation is generally safe, severe accidents involving mass transit do occur. These often result in significant injuries to passengers, pedestrians, and motorists.
If you’ve been hurt while riding in a SEPTA vehicle or on SEPTA property, you could be entitled to compensation. Let the personal injury attorneys of Cooper Schall & Levy review your case and discuss your available legal options.
What are the Different Transit Services Provided by SEPTA?
By some estimates, SEPTA serves over 300 million commuters each year. This vast transit system is supported by numerous SEPTA-owned and managed vehicles, such as buses, regional commuter trains, elevated and subway trains, and trolleys. SEPTA is also responsible for numerous paratransit vehicles for the disabled and elderly, as well as maintenance and work vehicles. Finally, SEPTA provides these services using a network of railways, stations, depots, yards, and other properties. With so much responsibility for mass transportation, and with so many passengers, pedestrians, and other vehicles in the mix, accidents and injuries are virtually unavoidable.
What Kinds of Accidents may Occur on SEPTA Vehicles and Properties?
These are the accidents that may occur (and, in some cases, have occurred) involving SEPTA vehicles and properties:
Bus accidents: Not all passengers can sit, and those who do may not have a seat belt. Serious accidents can violently throw a bus passenger, causing injury. SEPTA bus accidents include accidents with other vehicles, as well as accidents involving pedestrians.
Train accidents: The risks to train passengers are similar to those involving buses. Trains can derail, too, or they can strike a vehicle or person on the tracks. A passenger may also slip and fall when entering or exiting the train.
Trolley accidents: These typically involve other trolleys, vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians.
Other accidents: Injuries such as slips and falls may occur at depots, stations and on other transit properties. Disabled or elderly passengers on paratransit vehicles may get hurt either on a vehicle or in the process of entering or leaving one. Although work and maintenance vehicles do not transport passengers, the negligent operation of these vehicles may cause accidents with pedestrians and motorists.
Why Do SEPTA Accidents Occur?
Operating a SEPTA vehicle requires training and care, especially when high passenger volume or heavy traffic are factored in. Accidents that involve SEPTA vehicles may occur for one or more of the following reasons:
- Driver error, including negligent operation of vehicles
- Lack of training for drivers and operators
- Defective rails and/or vehicles
- Faulty equipment
- Poorly maintained vehicles and tracks
Not all SEPTA injuries involve vehicles. The agency is also responsible for taking reasonable care of its various properties. Injuries that occur on SEPTA properties, such as stations, could be the result of any number of conditions such as:
- Leaking pipes
- Malfunctioning drains
- Crumbling ceilings and walls
- Broken handrails on stairs
These and other defects resulting from improperly maintained premises may cause slips, falls, and injuries to the head, neck, back and other parts of the body.
Are There Special Rules For SEPTA Lawsuits?
Filing a lawsuit involving SEPTA is not the same as suing a private driver after an automobile accident. Different rules apply, and three of the main ones are the common carrier rule, sovereign immunity and limitations on damages.
Buses, trains and trolleys are known as common carriers. These are any public transportation units responsible for carrying large numbers of people, goods or both. On one hand, common carriers are held to an exceptionally high standard of care due to the volume of passengers they transport. This standard of care is higher than that required of a private motorist. Common carriers have to follow strict safety regulations and can be held liable for any act of negligence or recklessness.
However, there are limitations to this liability. So-called “jerk and jolt” accidents are a prime example. If a bus or trolley jerks, jolts, or experiences some other sudden stop, the carrier is not automatically liable for resulting passenger injury. That’s because common carriers are shielded from liability for normal and expected movements and stops that may occur during a trip.
An injured passenger would need to prove that his or her injuries were the result of unusual, abnormal, or unforeseeable movements and stops. As an example, a passenger who falls after the driver applies normal pressure to the brakes would probably be unable to recover damages. But if the driver was speeding and had to slam on the brakes, any injuries could be recoverable.
The other special consideration for SEPTA lawsuits is the doctrine of sovereign immunity. SEPTA is a state government agency, and the Sovereign Immunity Act may shield it from liability in certain cases. In order to sue a government agency, there must be an exception to sovereign immunity. Even where such an exception exists, there are strict procedural rules that must be followed. Failing to follow these rules could jeopardize your claim, and therefore your ability to collect damages. For example, within six months of your accident, you have to provide notice to SEPTA that you intend to sue. The notice contains important information such as details about your accident.
Finally, there are caps on the amount of damages that may be paid out to victims. The most a victim can receive is $250,000, with a total accident limitation of $1,000,000. This means that regardless of the number of victims in an accident, SEPTA may only be liable for up to $1,000,000 in damages.
Contact a Philadelphia SEPTA Bus And Trolley Accident Attorney Today
Having an experienced SEPTA injury attorney is critical to making sure you get the maximum damages possible. If you’ve been injured, don’t wait. Call Cooper Schall & Levy about your accident today.