After $700K verdict, SEPTA and City of Philadelphia file appeal

By Vimbai Chikomo | Feb 1, 2016

PHILADELPHIA -- A 70-year old man was recently awarded $700,000 for injuries he sustained after his scooter hit a raised trolley track in South Philadelphia, though the defendants on the hook for it have appealed.

Joseph Lacava filed a lawsuit against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and the City of Philadelphia, claiming negligence after the front tire of his scooter struck a raised portion of a trolley track near the intersection of 11th Street and Cantrell Street. Lacava fell to the ground and fractured his left knee.

Lacava also sued the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, but that complaint was dismissed before trial. Both the City and SEPTA have appealed the verdict.

During the three-day trial, jurors listened to Lacava’s attorney - Scott T. Taggart of Spear, Greenfield, Richman & Weitz PC - fault SEPTA and the city for the condition that injured his client. The jury also heard arguments from each defendant claiming the other party was liable for the road defect that caused Lacava’s injury.

“Defendants that are blaming each other can certainly make it easier for a plaintiff to prove liability,” Taggart said. “To some extent, however, defendants still collaborate to battle the claims asserted by a plaintiff.”

On Nov. 19, after deliberating for four hours, the jury reached a unanimous verdict and found SEPTA 70 percent liable and the City of Philadelphia 30 percent liable for Lacava’s injury.

According to the claim, on July 13, 2013, Lacava was driving his motor scooter along 11th Street and was thrown to the ground when his scooter hit a trolley track that was raised approximately 2.5 inches.

Since the raised trolley track formerly serviced the discontinued Route 23 SEPTA trolley line, the City argued in court that SEPTA was still responsible for the trolley track. SEPTA, on the other hand, claimed it had no notice of a dangerous condition in the area.

During discovery, documents revealed that a city crew had been in the vicinity performing repair work a few weeks before the Lacava’s accident. And after the trial concluded, it was revealed that SEPTA had also performed some work in the area weeks before the incident.

“It is my understanding that the City of Philadelphia is in the process of completely paving over that entire trolley track line, which should have been done long ago,” Taggart said.

“That trolley line has been out of service since 1992. The track and the area surrounding the track has progressively gotten worse over the years, causing problems for people using those roads, especially people on two-wheel vehicles.”

SEPTA's Trolley Route 23 runs between the Chestnut Hill and South Philadelphia neighborhoods via Germantown Avenue and was the city’s longest streetcar route before it was suspended by SEPTA in 1992 and replaced with bus service.

After his fall, Lacava was taken to an emergency room by ambulance and diagnosed with a left patella fracture. He had surgery the next day to repair his knee and had additional surgery four days later, followed by physical therapy.

By April 2014, approximately 10 months after the incident, Lacava's knee still hadn’t improved. So he underwent knee replacement surgery followed by more physical therapy. An expert in orthopedic surgery testified that Lacava will experience continued pain and will not be able to bend his knee completely.

Lacava took the stand and testified that his injury makes it difficult to perform household chores, walk long distances and ride a bike. He also claimed to have difficulty sleeping and sought damages for past and future pain and suffering, and a medical lien of about $40,000.

They jury agreed with the plaintiff and awarded him $700,000.

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