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Blind Spot: Jury Awards $5 Million Based on Defective SEPTA Bus Mirror (PA)

February 11, 2016

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SEPTA is no stranger to accidents and their resulting lawsuits.  Last December, a Philadelphia jury awarded a $5 million verdict against SEPTA and the manufacturer of its buses, New Flyer of America Inc., in <a href="" rel="">Chin v. SEPTA</a>.
The case arose out of a September 5, 2012 incident in which the plaintiff, Stephen Chin, was crossing the street at Sixth and Arch in Philadelphia when he was struck by a SEPTA bus turning left onto Sixth Street.  Chin fell and the bus rolled over his right foot, causing a degloving injury and multiple fractures to his ankle and foot.  Chin was a college athlete who ran cross-country.  After the accident, he continued to suffer significant pain which greatly impacted his way of life.
Chin sued SEPTA on a theory of negligence and New Flyer on claims of negligence and strict liability, alleging that they had defectively designed the bus when it mounted the driver’s side rear-view mirror.  Chin asserted that due to this defect the driver was unable to see him as he crossed the street.  Chin settled with SEPTA for its statutory cap amount of $250,000 while the case against New Flyer proceeded to trial.
At trial, testimony showed that it was solely New Flyer’s responsibility to determine the best position for the bus’s rear-view mirror even though SEPTA advised them to position the mirror to minimize blind spots.  Chin’s team used an expert who stated that the bus design was defective due to New Flyer’s negligent methodology.  Specifically, he stated that New Flyer’s failure to listen to SEPTA’s specifications, their lack of computer-aided analysis of sightlines, and their failure to meet industry standards of lower placed mirrors all fed in to their negligence and defective design.  The expert even provided a 3D model which demonstrated that had the mirror been four inches lower, the driver would have been able to see Chin.
New Flyer’s defense team produced an expert of their own who stated that the bus was not defective but instead it was the driver’s fault for failing to use the “rock and roll” technique.  This technique requires a bus driver to bend forward, backward, and side-to-side to see over any objects obstructing their view, such as rear-view mirrors.  To support this, he produced his own 3D model as well which showed that had the driver used the rock and roll technique they would have been able to see Chin.
The jury found New Flyer to be negligent but not strictly liable.  Chin was determined to receive $5 million; of which they determined that New Flyer was 25% liable and SEPTA 75%, thus putting New Flyer on the hook for $1.25 million.
This verdict reminds of importance of experts where the jury's factual determination depends on one fact witness’s interpretation of events and their legitimacy.  Here, New Flyer may have saved $3.75 million, thanks to their expert's testimony.  The jury may have been thinking along the lines of Mick Jagger - "I know, it's only 'rock n' roll,' but I like it."  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.


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