On January 12, 2017, NBC News reported a fatal bus accident in Philadelphia Area: the victim was a 64-year-old woman; the vehicle involved was a SEPTA bus.
Another SEPTA bus crash occurred on March 2, 2017, leaving 12 people injured – this involved another SEPTA bus that was said to have collided with a Philadelphia Water Department truck.
SEPTA, short for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, is a regional public transportation authority that operates roughly 120 bus routes in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Bucks County (other forms of public transit services SEPTA provides include subway and elevated rail, commuter rail, light rail and electric trolleybus).
Anyone who has walked the streets of Philadelphia can be witness to how SEPTA bus drivers have driven at excessive rates of speed, ran yellow and red lights, and failed to observe the rules of the road. As a result, hundreds of SEPTA bus accidents have occurred and continue to occur each year involving other cars, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians. SEPTA general counsel Gino Benedetti himself has said that during the 2014-15 fiscal year SEPTA was sued about 1,400 times, not just 408 times as court records show. Back in 1988, this same number of lawsuits, 405, was filed against SEPTA in the month of January alone.
However, that whether one is injured while a passenger on a SEPTA bus, as a result of a car accident with a SEPTA bus, or while a pedestrian after being struck by a SEPTA bus, there are certain rules and limitations that will apply due to SEPTA being a government agency. This means SEPTA is entitled to certain immunity under the law. Also, an individual injured as a result of SEPTA’s negligence must provide notice (using SEPTA claims form) within 6 months of the date of the SEPTA accident. Failure to provide timely notice may result to inability to pursue a claim for personal injuries. In addition, SEPTA can be held liable only for injuries that occur with respect to its negligent operation of its buses and vehicles. In other words, the courts have held that in order to sue SEPTA, your personal injuries must have been caused by SEPTA’s actual operation of its vehicles. Since “to operate” means “to put in motion,” preparing to operate a vehicle or acts taken once the vehicle has come to a complete stop, therefore, cannot be considered as operating a vehicle. In fact, courts have rejected many lawsuits filed by passengers injured on SEPTA buses that were not “operating” at the time. For example, Pennsylvania courts have granted SEPTA immunity on the basis that SEPTA was not “operating a vehicle” in the following circumstances:
- SEPTA bus rear-ended while loading/unloading passengers;
- SEPTA bus overcrowded which resulted in passenger missing his stop and falling at the next stop;
- SEPTA driver did not “kneel” bus properly for passenger to exit; and,
- Wheelchair ramp was uneven with the ground after being lowered, resulting in injuries to wheelchair-bound passenger attempting to exit via ramp.
In 2011, the new law called the Fair Share Act was also gave SEPTA the assurance that it would no longer be on the hook for large payouts unless it can be ruled that it is responsible for at least 60 percent of an accident.
If you are a SEPTA passenger, pedestrian or car driver injured as a result of a SEPTA bus accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering as well as any economic damages such as wage loss and medical expenses incurred. However, due to the many rules and limitations that can shield SEPTA from liability, it may be much more advantageous if you will be represented by a skilled and experienced SEPTA accident lawyer.