Suit over August 2017 SEPTA train crash still idling, pending damages cap and NTSB investigation

By Nicholas Malfitano | Aug 16, 2018

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)  

PHILADELPHIA – A lawsuit filed against Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) over a train collision that injured more than 30 people last year is still stayed, pending consideration of the transport entity’s damages cap and the release of official investigation data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

On Oct. 24, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge Arnold L. New approved a stay in an action filed by Derrell Robbson of Philadelphia, against SEPTA, which is also based in Philadelphia. The stay placed the case in “Deferred” status.

“The NTSB has advised SEPTA that at this time, it does not consent to the release of information with respect to the train accident,” SEPTA’s motion to stay the case dated Sept. 29 read.

“As this court is aware, as a Commonwealth party, recoverable damages against SEPTA are limited…[and] damages arising from the same occurrence shall not exceed $250,000 in favor of any plaintiff or $1,000,000 in the aggregate. Given the number of potential claimants, the $1,000,000 damages cap is implicated.”

Additionally, SEPTA argued the stay was necessary due to the ongoing NTSB investigation.

“The NTSB has advised that…it does not consent to the release of any information by SEPTA at this time, which includes pre-accident and post-accident records, inquiries for records made pursuant to the Pennsylvania Right-To-Know Law and requests for information made in civil litigation, including discovery. In light of those restrictions, it is plain that SEPTA is unable to verify an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint or participate in discovery or its own defense,” the stay motion stated.

“All claimants should be afforded an opportunity to exercise priority in first receiving appropriate medical care, assessing their claim and making a timely claim. Such coordination will promote fairness to all claimants, promote judicial efficiency, avoid multiplicity of trials and reduce the expense to the parties. A stay also mitigates against possible adverse effects of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Moreover, the rationale for a stay is especially acute where a number of claims are asserted against a Commonwealth Party, such as SEPTA, where damages are capped at $1,000,000.”

Robbson, the first passenger in this accident to litigate, initially filed suit in state court on Aug. 23, 2017. Since that time, other plaintiffs have done likewise based on the same incident and SEPTA has indicated it will eventually seek consolidation of those suits.

On Aug. 21, 2017, Robbson finished work and boarded SEPTA’s Norristown High-Speed Line and its Train 155, en route to the 69th Street Transportation Center in Upper Darby and his home in West Philadelphia. Over the course of that trip, Robbson claims Train 155’s engineer overshot train station platforms when making route stops, and when approaching the 69th Street Transportation Center just after midnight on Aug. 22, reached “excessive and careless speeds.”

The lawsuit says suddenly and without warning, Train 155 collided with Train 148, which was stopped on the same track at 69th Street Transportation Center. At the time of the crash, Train 155 held 41 passengers, including Robbson. The plaintiff was then taken to Bryn Mawr Hospital for treatment of his injuries.

Robbson says he sustained a head injury, cervical strain, abrasions, contusions, plus other permanent and severe injuries, and that these same injuries were suffered wholly as a result of the defendant’s negligence and carelessness.

Federal investigators with the NTSB launched an official inquiry into the crash soon afterwards, a process they said could take up to one year to complete.

A follow-up preliminary report released late last year explained that excessive speed and a reported “slippery rail” may have been contributing factors in the accident.

The accident in question was the second crash to take place at the 69th Street Transportation Center last year. The first one occurred in February 2017 and in that accident, a train on the Market-Frankford Line also collided with a stopped train and derailed into a rail yard, which injured one of the operators.

For a lone count of negligence, the plaintiff is seeking compensatory damages against defendant SEPTA in an amount in excess of $50,000 and prevailing arbitration limits, exclusive of pre- and post-judgment interest and costs.

The plaintiff is represented by Thomas R. Kline and Patrick Fitzgerald of Kline & Specter, plus Robert Mongeluzzi, Jeffrey P. Goodman and E. Douglas DiSandro, Jr. of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky, all in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Mark E. Gottlieb of Offit Kurman and Joshua D. Groff of Green Silverstein & Groff, both in Philadelphia, plus William H. Pillsbury in Willow Grove.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 170802182

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

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