FOX 29 Investigates: SEPTA's $240K Payout To Injured Bus Rider

A nasty fall on a SEPTA bus leads to not only serious injuries but a big payout for a Philadelphia man. The region's transportation giant says its bus driver made a bad call in the incident. But as Jeff Cole and FOX 29 Investigates found, it hasn't hurt her career.

Roland Epps' fateful SEPTA bus ride starts like most others. The life-long city resident boards a bus at Ridge Avenue and Wallace Street while nursing a surgically-repaired foot.

He's heading to his tiny Philadelphia Housing Authority apartment after a visit with his daughter.

But just as the ride starts, Epps is sprawled on the floor of the bus, writhing in pain.

"I hit one railing, bounced off the railing, and hit a chair," Epps said. "Oh, I was really messed up."

He ended up in the hospital, facing surgery and a long recovery while SEPTA – funded with tax dollars and riders' fares – paid through the nose for the incident, captured by its own cameras.

"Well, we realized that the incident that occurred was not handled properly," said SEPTA Director of Media Relations Jerri Williams. "The operator in this case made a bad judgment, a poor judgment. And we realized that we could not defend this case."

SEPTA settled. Here's why.

It was Dec. 5, 2011, when Epps, on crutches and in a boot, boarded the bus.

At the wheel was Nicola Rogers, a SEPTA driver for nearly 17 years.

The cameras track Epps moving slowly down the aisle. He stops and suddenly tumbles forward as the bus moves. The fall is seen on video from different angles.

Epps – who has a criminal history and admits he's made mistakes in life – claims Rogers lurched the vehicle forward.

"She acted like she were in a hurry to get somewhere," Epps said.

"So, she moved off pretty quickly?" Cole asked.

"Yeah, so she jerked the bus when she hit the gas," Epps replied.

Epps grabs for his elbow while two passengers come to his aid.

Video shows a man in an overcoat walking twice from Epps to the front of the bus, near the driver, and gesturing with his hands. But without sound, it's unclear if he's alerting Rogers.

Epps remains on the floor as the bus keeps right on rolling. In fact, Rogers never stopped to check on Epps until she arrived at the end of the line, Eighth and Market streets, 11 minutes later.

Epps' attorney, Thomas Gibbons, said, "The video clearly shows for 11 minutes he's sitting in the middle of the aisle in agonizing pain, often times wiping tears away from his eyes."

Gibbons says Rogers told him she did notice Epps board the bus with crutches but says she didn't see him fall and didn't know that he remained in the aisle.

SEPTA says the policy is to immediately pull the bus over and attend to the passenger.

That didn't happen here. But it hasn't hurt Rogers; she's been promoted.

Before we tell you about her promotion, take a look as passengers step over Epps as they get off the bus.

Rogers, at the end of her route, is seen finally walking back and quickly speaking with Epps before moving away.

He says she asked if he was all right?

"Do it look like I'm all right?" Epps asked. "Hell no, I'm not all right."

"I'm in the aisle of the bus here," Cole said.

"I'm still laying in the floor," Epps said. "You might as well say I'm laying in the floor."

Contacted through her Facebook page, where she writes she works for SEPTA, Rogers would not comment.

There was no answer on her home phone.

And when we tried to speak with her at her home, she at first said she wasn't Nicola Rogers.

"Are you Ms. Rogers?" Cole asked. "You're not?"

She quickly refused comment and wouldn't get out of her car.

"Can you explain to me what happened there though?" Cole asked.

Along with other injuries, Epps suffered a fractured left elbow, and his triceps muscle above the elbow broke away. He needed surgery to repair it.

He sued SEPTA.

Late last year, the agency settled for $240,000 just $10,000 short of the maximum payment allowed under the law.

"Do you think $240,000 is a significant amount to pay out, since this agency is funded both with tax dollars and riders' fares?" Cole asked.

"It is a significant amount, and we, you know, hope that in most situations that our employees act properly where we're not liable," Williams said.

And what about Rogers' promotion? About seven months after Epps went tumbling, Rogers moved up at SEPTA and got a pay hike.

She's now a trainer, teaching others how to safely drive SEPTA buses.

"She did have an 11 minutes of poor judgment. And because of that, you know, we accept liability," Williams said.

"But you don't think that mistake, or that judgment call that she made, has any impact on the fact that she's trying to train SEPTA drivers, future drivers?" Cole asked.

"Oh, not at all," answered Williams.

"You think she's fine there?" Cole asked.

"She had 16 years as an excellent employee before that incident," Williams said.

SEPTA's Williams says Rogers was disciplined but won't say how. She adds Rogers regrets not pulling over that bus.

In her incident report, Rogers writes Epps stated he "tripped" and "was fine," but adds "when I got to the end of the line he asked for an ambulance."

Epps says he never told anyone he was fine.