SEPTA argues it is not negligent for passenger whose head and neck were caught in elevated train doors

By Nicholas Malfitano | Nov 15, 2018

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)  

PHILADELPHIA – Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) recently countered that it was not contributorily negligent in response to a filed complaint from a passenger whose head and neck were trapped in the doors of an elevated line train last year.

Jessica Bellwoar of Philadelphia first filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on July 24 versus SEPTA, also of Philadelphia.

“On March 10, 2017, at approximately 10:30 a.m., the plaintiff, Jessica Bellwoar, was attempting to board the defendant, SEPTA’s elevated line train at 46th & Market Streets on the elevated train line platform. Plaintiff Bellwoar attempted to board the train when she slipped on the platform, causing her to fall onto her knees with her head falling forward, causing her head and neck to become trapped when the doors closed, while the rest of her body remained on the platform,” according to the lawsuit.

Suddenly and without warning, the train began to move while plaintiff Bellwoar struggled to free herself from the doors, causing the plaintiff to sustain severe bodily injuries, the suit said.

The suit alleged as a result of SEPTA’s negligence, Bellwoar suffered serious personal injuries, including persistent neck, mid-back and lower-back pain, ongoing cervical and lumbosacral sprain and strain with myofascitis, myofascial syndrome, sacroiliitis, right wrist ligamentous sprain, degenerative signal posterior horn lateral meniscus and various other ills and injuries which are causally related to the incident, all of which may continue for an indefinite period of time into the future, plus orthopedic, neurological and psychological injuries.

As part of necessary medical treatments subsequent to the incident, Bellwoar required neuromuscular re-education, strapping of the knee, intersegmental traction, ultrasound therapy, electric stimulation therapy and various other in-home exercises, the suit says.

Bellwoar claimed SEPTA violated the law by failing to maintain proper and adequate control over the operation of the train at the time of the incident, failed to maintain proper and adequate control over the operation of the elevated train line doors at the time of the accident and operating the train in a negligent and/or careless manner, in addition to a number of other charges.

In its answer to the complaint filed on Aug. 8, SEPTA claimed Bellwoar’s injuries came as a result of her own comparative negligence, that she “knowingly and voluntarily encountered” the danger which caused the alleged injuries and her complaint both failed to state a claim and was barred by the Fair Share Act.

“Plaintiff alleges that the injuries occurred during the act of alighting from or entering into defendant’s stopped vehicle, and defendant is therefore immune from suit. Plaintiff alleges that the fall was caused by debris, trash, liquids or other substances on defendant’s premises, and not by any dangerous condition derived, originating or having as its source any Commonwealth real estate, and defendant is therefore immune from suit,” SEPTA’s answer read, in part.

Through a response to the new matter filed Sept. 18, Bellwoar’s counsel denied it entirely on the premise of it containing conclusions of law to which no response was required, and demanded strict proof of SEPTA’s allegations at trial.

For one count of negligence, the plaintiff is seeking damages, jointly and severally, not in excess of $50,000 plus costs according to law.

The plaintiff is represented by John A. Spitale of the Law Office of Christopher L. Giddings, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Lanni S. Klein of SEPTA’s Legal Department, also in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180702598

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

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