Judge: SEPTA can't be blamed in passenger's death

Posted: August 14, 2013

A SEPTA BUS DRIVER who saw an unresponsive, drooling passenger sitting in urine followed her supervisors' orders - to finish her route and forget about getting medical help - and the man died.

But SEPTA did nothing wrong in its handling of Leonard Sedden's April 11, 2010, death, a federal judge ruled recently, saying the transit authority had no duty to secure aid for Sedden, 68, because it neither created his medical condition nor worsened it.

U.S. District Judge Petrese B. Tucker on July 31 dismissed a federal lawsuit filed against SEPTA in February 2012 by Lisa Reynolds, a New Jersey woman handling Sedden's estate. Reynolds had sought damages in excess of $50,000 for Sedden's death aboard a crosstown "Nite Owl" bus traveling from SEPTA's 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby to the Frankford Transportation Center.

A driver alerted a dispatcher to Sedden's condition at 4 a.m., but the dispatcher and a supervisor directed the driver to finish her route, apparently believing him to be sleeping and drunk. SEPTA police boarded the bus at the Frankford terminal and declared Sedden dead at 5:30 a.m.

Officials later said he died of heart failure and drug intoxication.

In her complaint, Reynolds complained that SEPTA maintains a policy of continuing services regardless of a passenger's medical emergency. She alleged negligence, wrongful death and civil-rights violations.

She cited a similar case, in which Peter J. Yeremian of Broomall died Jan. 29, 2010, aboard SEPTA's Route 100 train. When the train operator saw Yeremian unresponsive in his seat during a stop in Norristown, he alerted a dispatcher, who directed him to finish his route and return to 69th Street Station. By route's end, Yeremian was dead. Another federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in February 2012.

In dismissing Reynolds' claim, Tucker wrote that SEPTA did not create Sedden's condition nor make him more vulnerable. Further, she wrote, citizens do not have a "federal constitutional right to rescue services, competent or otherwise."

Jerri Williams, a SEPTA spokeswoman, said SEPTA requires drivers who suspect that a passenger is in medical distress to alert a dispatcher, who sends a supervisor to gauge whether to call for rescue services. In Sedden's case, the supervisor confirmed that Sedden was breathing and believed he was sleeping, Williams said.

"On many of our late vehicles, people frequently fall asleep. We do not discriminate against somebody who wants to sleep on our vehicles; our policy is to let them sleep," Williams said. "The fact that they may have soiled themselves, I hate to tell you, is not out of the ordinary."

Reynolds' attorney, Michael Barrett, didn't return calls for comment.

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo

Blog: phillyconfidential.com

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