In Lyme disease case, SEPTA will hand over records on workers bitten by ticks

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 5, 2019

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)  

PHILADELPHIA – Per judicial order, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is required to produce any reports concerning exposure to Lyme disease and Bell’s Palsy on the job, in connection with a flagman’s lawsuit who alleges he contracted both diseases in the course of his work.

On March 7, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Judge John M. Younge ordered SEPTA to produce any injury reports submitted to its Safety Division within the last 10 years regarding tick bites resulting in the potential exposure to Lyme disease and/or Bell’s Palsy at the work site described in plaintiff Stephen A. Figueroa’s complaint, by March 22.

Figueroa, of Warminster, first filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on May 22 versus SEPTA, of Philadelphia.

“On May 16, 2017, Mr. Figueroa was working at 49th Street Station as a flagman protecting a contractor who was working along with SEPTA at the Arsenal Interlocking, which is close to or outside the 49th Street Station in Philadelphia. The worksite was infested with ticks and SEPTA knew or had reason to know that its employees, including plaintiff, risked exposure to tick bites while working in the area,” according to the complaint.

On the day in question, Figueroa worked from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., returned home to take a quick shower, then came back to the job site to work an overtime shift lasting until 11:30 p.m, the suit says. When Figueroa was home, he picked away at something in his hairline, which he later learned was a tick that infected him with Lyme Disease, the suit said.

Two days later, he discovered a rash in the very same area and eight days later, Figueroa reported a funny feeling around his mouth area while he was trying to eat a sandwich, and soon discovered he could not talk or whistle, the suit says. Believing he was suffering a stroke, he went to Doylestown Hospital for treatment and was diagnosed as suffering from Lyme Disease-related Bell’s Palsy, a type of facial paralysis, the suit stated.

Figueroa was prescribed doxycycline, and later diagnosed with ocular surface disease resulting in dry eye and chronic tearing due to the fact that he could not fully close his eye, as a result of the Bell’s Palsy, the suit adds.

Furthermore, Figueroa claims prior to his hiring, SEPTA removed a document from its intranet, Fact Sheet 5043, that instructed employees to take certain precautions to protect themselves from ticks – and at the present time, the lawsuit says SEPTA has no company policy governing this same issue.

SEPTA has no excuse for not having a tick policy, especially since it was previously sued by Lance Henry over the issue, the suit says.

In the Lance Henry matter, the neutral arbitrator, Harris Bock, made the following findings regarding liability, the suit reads:

• Under FELA, SEPTA has a statutory duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees.

• SEPTA had a duty to provide to its employees policies and procedures for avoiding and protecting against Lyme Disease.

• SEPTA was negligent in its failure to provide a safe work environment for plaintiff, and such negligence was the legal cause of plaintiff’s injuries.

As a result, Figueroa says he now suffers from Post-Lyme Syndrome and Bell’s Palsy, the latter of which has affected his speech, eating and appearance, and also deals with an eyelid droop which causes irritation to this eye because of dry eye syndrome.

Figueroa claims SEPTA violated federal law by not providing him with a safe place to work, failed to comply with its own internal safety rules and regulations and failed to provide appropriate, functional and safe protective gear, in addition to a number of other charges.

On July 3, SEPTA counsel Daniel J. McGravey provided an answer on behalf of the transportation entity, explaining Figueroa’s complaint failed to state a claim under FELA, that the company provided a safe workplace at all times, had no notice of ticks on the property at issue and that the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by his own negligence, among other allegations.

Through a reply to the new matter filed July 10, Figueroa’s counsel Ian M. Bryson denied the defense’s points as conclusions of law which require no response, and requested the new matter be dismissed with prejudice.

For one count of FELA violation and related negligence, the plaintiff is seeking damages in excess of $50,000 plus interest, costs and any other amount the Court deems fit to award, in addition to a trial by jury.

The plaintiff is represented by James J. McEldrew III of McEldrew Young, in Philadelphia.

The defendant is represented by Daniel J. McGravey, Amy C. Lachowicz and Lauri A. Kavulich of Clark Hill, also in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 180502339

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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