Washington, D.C.’s Metrobus system has completed equipping its entire fleet with internal surveillance cameras to prevent passengers from faking injuries on board.
In recent months, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates the Metrobus system, reported a series of possible cases of passengers staging injuries in an effort to snag cash payouts and settlement money from the transit agency.
The News4 I-Team obtained internal bus surveillance footage from the Metrobus involved in a Sept. 24 incident on Minnesota Avenue SE, after a Metro employee tipped the I-Team that multiple passengers complained of injuries. A Metro spokesman said the bus had a "minor" accident with a truck, in which the vehicles' mirrors tapped, but no other visible damage was found.
The internal surveillance footage shows no jarring or noticeable movement of passengers during the collision but clearly shows at least two passengers signaling injuries in the minutes afterward. One passenger, wearing a gray shirt, is shown limping noticeably on his right leg inside the bus. After being carried off the bus by a fellow passenger, the man in the gray shirt is seen limping on his left leg.
A fellow passenger, carrying a purple bag, is seen lying on the ground, writhing in discomfort. Footage would later show him standing, moving freely and snapping photos of the scene on his phone.
Because several passengers reported injuries, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services deemed the incident a potential "mass casualty" incident and dispatched emergency crews.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said eight people have filed claims with Metro in connection with the incident on Minnesota Avenue SE. "No claims will be paid" to passengers claiming injuries in the incident, Stessel said.
Stessel said the footage reviewed by the News4 I-Team was a useful tool in their investigation. "If there's an accident on the bus or a customer claims to be injured, it lets us go back and very quickly understand what happened and whether that is a valid claim that we should be paying out or an invalid claim, something that's bogus," Stessel said.
Metro said it receives 220 injury claims each month, but about 120 of them are eventually dropped by the people who filed them. Fifteen percent of the remaining claims are dismissed by Metro without payment, Stessel said.
Greg Schoenborn, whose wife was hit and killed by a Metrobus in 2007, said anyone faking injuries to scheme Metro into paying a settlement is "morally reprehensible." Schoenborn, who said he was paid a settlement after his wife’s death, said he’s concerned fraudsters are trying to "piggyback" off of his tragedy in pursuit of cash.
Metro pays an average of $2,400 to passengers to settle injury claims. Some are as small as $10 to passengers who report minor damage to valuables damaged in bus accidents or mishaps.