Suburban Express lawsuits reach 125 this year; conversation continues on Reddit

Students are continuing the conversation on the UIUC subreddit after Suburban Express lawsuits filed against passengers this year increased from 44 to 125 since Monday.

Suburban Express filed 209 lawsuits since April 1994, when the first lawsuit was filed in Champaign County. Eighty-four of these lawsuits were filed prior to 2013.

Jeremy Leval, a graduate student who authored the viral Facebook post about an incident with a bus driver, was one of many students who was charged with a lawsuit Monday.

Leval’s attorney and father, Alain Leval, said he will respond “rigorously” to the lawsuit,

“My goal is to defend my client, my son, and defend the rights he has,” he said. “I am not here to change the landscape of this situation. I don’t know if it will change or not.”

In a statement provided to The Daily Illini on April 24, Suburban Express wrote: “We carried about 100,000 passengers in the past year. Imagine what would happen on a day when we’re running 75 buses (as we did on three occasions this academic year) if 5% of the students decide to ride the wrong bus, ask for a bus to wait for them, claim they bought a ticket but forgot to BRING it, or in general ask for special treatment. Imagine the effect that all of this would have on the other 95%. It would be chaos.”

Suburban Express also responded to an email from The Daily Illini inquiring why lawsuits filed this year have been in Ford County.

“Wide-open court calendar, easy parking, and service with a smile,” the bus company said in the email, adding that distance is also a factor. The Ford County courthouse is located in Paxton, Ill., the county seat; the courthouse is 26.3 miles from Champaign and 111 miles from Chicago, according to Google Maps road directions.

But Suburban Express-initiated lawsuits are nothing new. Since 1994, the bus company has filed 209 lawsuits in Champaign and Ford counties combined, according to Champaign and Ford counties circuit court records.

Champaign County Circuit Court records also show that Suburban Express brought a civil lawsuit against the Peoria Charter Coach Company in 2009. In the past, Suburban Express has filed 10 civil suits, including lawsuits against Amtrak, Champaign-Urbana MTD and then-Lincolnland Express, better known as LEX.

In wake of the lawsuits, Peoria Charter customers were sent an email Monday night that the company has no pending lawsuits against University students. The memo advertised a $2 coupon on all tickets until the end of April if passengers use the promo code “nolawsuits.” Peoria Charter President Bill Winkler said it has been used 75 times, as of Thursday evening.

While the Facebook community brought the issue to light, UIUC subreddit forum users have continued the conversation.

Murph Finnicum, graduate student and the subreddit’s moderator, said because usernames on Reddit are hard to trace back to a personal name, the website has become a place for students to discuss the Suburban Express lawsuits without the fear of receiving a lawsuit themselves.

However, Finnicum said he received a letter from Suburban Express on Thursday afternoon, asking him to remove “libelous postings” from the threads.

“Accordingly, if you do not take corrective action to remedy the damages from your false and libelous postings by removing the items at issue by April 27, 2013, Suburban Express has authorized the pursuit of legal action against you as a result of your conduct,” states the letter signed by the company’s attorney, James E. Long of Chapin & Long P.C.

Finnicum said he responded to the letter in an email, saying he has no legal obligation to prevent these postings and will only remove content that violates Reddit community guidelines. He also posted his response on the UIUC subreddit.

As a part of his job, Finnicum said he has had to remove over a dozen posts that either revealed personal information or spammed the thread since April 19.

While some threads have proposed a boycott of the bus company, others have suggested passing out flyers with information about the lawsuits.

“I think people on the Internet like to make a big deal out of things,” Finnicum said. “But it is a good idea to advise that if (students) are riding (Suburban Express), they are putting themselves in danger.”

Corinne can be reached at cruff2@dailyillini.com.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jeremy Leval authored a Facebook post about a fine he received after an incident with a bus driver. Leval was fined after authoring the Facebook post. The Daily Illini regrets this error.