Written by attorney Jeffrey Harlan Penneys

Septa "jerk and jolt" cases

A popular defense in Septa accident cases when there is no other vehicle involved is the "jerk and jolt" defense. Septa's argument is that they are immune from such "accidents" unless the jolt is so extraordinary, that the driver was driving negligently. The reason for this "immunity" is that vehicles jerk and jolt all day everyday as they navigate the city roadways. If Septa was allowed to be sued for every jerk and jolt where someone falls and gets injured, there would be SO many claims that Septa would be out of business very quickly.

Testimony that a vehicle suddenly jerked, by itself, is not sufficient to establish negligence on the part of Septa. Absent clear evidence of a truly extraordinary jolt OR evidence that other passengers were affected in extraordinary and unreasonable ways, Septa is not responsible.

A claimant/plaintiff CAN recover under the theory that the jolt was extraordinary. Asbury v. Port Authority Transit of Allegheny County, 863 A.2d 84 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004); Muessner v. Port Authority of Allegheny County, 745 A.2d. 719 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000).

In Tilton v. Philadelphia Rapid Transit Co., 231 Pa. 63, 65, 79 A. 877, 877 (1911), the PA Supreme Court stated as follows::

"[u]nder normal circumstances, with the car under proper control, when it is brought to a stop by the motorman, it is not done so abruptly as to injure a passenger, by throwing him forward against the seat in front of him."

In Buzzelli v. Port Authority of Allegheny County, 674 A.2d 1186, 1189 (Pa. Commw. 1996), the Court stated as follows:

For standing passengers to be thrown forward without the ability to control their movement, such that they knock a passenger who is holding on to a railing off her feet, is an effect to a greater extent than is usual. ...If the effects described here were held to be within the reasonable anticipation of transit riders, then the principle that common carriers are held to the highest degree of care in regard to their customers would be rendered virtually meaningless.

So in order to win against Septa, we must be able to prove either (or both) of the above arguments.

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