A federal judge has dismissed a wrongful death complaint against SEPTA that was initiated by a man who claims his son died while aboard a mass transit train due to the negligence of the vehicle’s operator.
Broomall, Pa. resident Peter J. Yeremian was discovered unresponsive while riding the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Route 100 train at about 8 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2010.
His father, Peter B. Yeremian, administrator of his late son’s estate, filed suit in early November of last year, contending the train’s operator, despite having watched his son stagger apparently intoxicated on the train at the 69th Street Terminal, continued his route to Norristown, Pa., leaving his son to perish.
When the train returned to the terminal about an hour-and-a-half later, SEPTA transit police declared the younger Yeremian deceased.
In his lawsuit, the elder Yeremian blamed SEPTA for his son’s demise, claiming the man’s death and “extreme pain and anguish” were caused by SEPTA’s misconduct through the actions of its agents and employees.
The lawsuit also contained allegations of constitutional violations, specifically Fourteenth Amendment due process claims because SEPTA, as an agency of the commonwealth, allegedly deprived the plaintiff’s decedent of constitutional rights to life, liberty, privacy, bodily integrity and freedom from pain.
Yeremian claimed that SEPTA’s failure to render immediate medical care to his son constituted a deprivation of the man’s Fourteenth Amendment rights.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter determined otherwise.
“While the Court sympathizes with Plaintiff’s untimely loss of his son, the law is clear that such actions do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation,” Buckwalter wrote.
Buckwalter also dismissed the complaint’s state-created danger claim, noting that when the train operator first discovered the plaintiff’s son unresponsive, he immediately contacted SEPTA dispatchers to let them know of the situation and inquire what to do next.
“Decedent was therefore in no way restrained by SEPTA’s actions here,” the judge determined. “The allegations of the Complaint and the reasonable inferences therefrom do not suggest that SEPTA created a danger to the decedent or that it rendered him more vulnerable to any danger than had it not acted at all.”
Buckwalter further wrote that nothing occurred on the train that exacerbated Yeremian’s “already-in-progress condition.”
“Thus, while SEPTA may have been alerted of a potential danger when the Decedent did not respond to the employee’s attempts to arouse him, these actions did not create a danger because the danger already existed prior to this point,” the ruling states. “Moreover, SEPTA’s actions did not render the Decedent more vulnerable to any danger than had it not acted at all.
“The same unfortunate results would still likely have occurred here even if the train operator had not radioed to the Terminal and continued to operate the train,” the ruling continues. “This is because it cannot affirmatively be stated that the Decedent would have lived under these circumstances but for SEPTA’s failure to immediately stop the train and render medical assistance.”
Buckwalter also declined to address state law claims in the suit, writing that the federal court refuses to exercise “supplemental jurisdiction” with regard to these claims.
The ruling leaves open the opportunity for the plaintiff to further explore his state law claims in state court.