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Cyclist Injured In Philadelphia Brings A Suit Involving Vicarious Liability & Sovereign Immunity

Madeleine Salvatore was involved in an accident on a bicycle in Philadelphia that led to a broken arm, injury to a knee, and severe dental injuries when she encountered some abandoned trolley tracks. She has brought a civil case of personal injury against the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia County Court.

While Salvatore was riding, her bicycle wheel collided with a set of trolley tracks which sent her falling to the ground. She claims her injuries were the result of a dangerous condition and is seeking damages to account for medical care, missed work, and pain & suffering.

Salvatore claims that the trolley tracks located near 11th Street had not been used in service for over 15 years but that SEPTA had a duty to inspect and maintain the safety of the rails. She claims the agency had created a dangerous condition posing risk to the public, even though they no longer used the tracks. Her claim cited the agency for negligence and vicarious liability and sought damages exceeding $50,000. The matter is currently being litigated.

Understanding Vicarious Liability

The tort doctrine of vicarious liability, or imputed negligence, seeks recovery under “respondeat superior”. Respondeat superior translates in Latin to “let the master answer”, and provides that liability may be imposed on a person or entity for the actions of another when a special relationship exists. This may include a link between a parent and a child or an employer and employee.

Employers may be vicariously liable for a wrongful action of an employee when that individual is operating within the scope of his or her employment. An employee who is acting in the scope of employment is performing a task that they are typically asked to perform and for purposes of serving the employer. Actions initiated for personal reasons are excluded.

Greenleaf v. SEPTA (Pa.1997)

As a large service provider to the public, the organization is no stranger to civil actions based on negligence in the Pennsylvania courts. In Greenleaf, the court found that SEPTA, as a governmental entity, may be potentially shielded in cases of civil liability by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In that case, Michael Greenleaf was a passenger on a SEPTA rail line when another passenger drew a gun and demanded money.

The train operator noticed the commotion created among the passengers and stopped the train; however, the operator allegedly took nearly 30 seconds to open the doors and during that time Greenleaf was shot and injured. Greenleaf brought a negligence claim, citing the failure by the train operator to open the doors in a timely manner. The court found SEPTA was not liable because the injury resulted from the criminal acts of a third party.

About the Author

Charles GilmanCharles Gilman
Charles Gilman

As managing partner and co-founder of Gilman & Bedigian, it is my mission to help our clients recover and get their lives back on track. I strongly believe that every person who is injured by a wrongful act deserves compensation, and I will do my utmost to bring recompense to those who need and deserve it.


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