Crackdown set for SEPTA fake injury claims

Posted: October 13, 2011

Attention, passengers: The SEPTA lawsuit lottery may be coming to an unexpected halt.

Prosecutors have launched a campaign to crack down on SEPTA riders and others who fake injuries in bus crashes and other accidents, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and SEPTA general manager Joseph Casey said Thursday.

Video surveillance cameras on SEPTA vehicles have given authorities a powerful new weapon in fighting fraudulent claims - video displayed Thursday showed a man running to get on a SEPTA bus that had been involved in an accident so he could lay down on a seat and claim a back injury.

Another video showed a woman getting out of her bus seat to check an accident scene before returning to her seat to sprawl out and instruct her 6-year-old daughter to feign injury, too.

SEPTA pays about $40 million a year in accident claims, and payouts have risen by more than 10 percent in the past two years, Casey said.

"A picture is truly worth a thousand words in these cases," said Williams. "Bus accidents where everyone on the block falls down and says they were injured - those days are over."

About 45 percent of SEPTA buses and all Broad Street and Market-Frankford subway trains are equipped with video surveillance cameras. SEPTA plans to equip all buses, subways, and trolleys with video cameras by January 2013, and the newly arriving Silverliner V commuter rail cars also have cameras.

In the 12 months ending June 30, 2,389 SEPTA passengers were injured or claimed to be injured. And 3,627 SEPTA vehicles were involved in accidents.

SEPTA officials on Thursday displayed video footage from six incidents in which passengers or others were prosecuted for submitting false injury claims.

In five of the cases, seven claimants were sentenced to probation terms and ordered to pay as much as $16,000 in restitution and court costs. In the sixth case, three claimants are awaiting trial, facing charges of insurance fraud and attempted theft by deception.

Claimants in the six cases had produced $300,000 in medical bills, Casey said.

Casey said he hopes the new crackdown will convince passengers and others that SEPTA is not a patsy for false claims.

"They dream of a SEPTA payday," Casey said, hoping to dispel what he called "an urban myth" that SEPTA is an easy mark.


Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com

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