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Tom Kline’s latest record-stretching verdict might inspire him to wish outgoing Mayor Edward Rendell had privatized mass transit in Southeastern Pennsylvania — so Kline’s clients could be sure to see more than a fraction of the $51 million a Philadelphia jury awarded them yesterday to punish SEPTA for its role in an escalator accident that tore a 4-year-old boy’s foot from his leg.

But Kline has already taken steps to secure a recovery far beyond the statutory cap of $250,000 per tort claim against commonwealth defendants. It’s no longer just a tort case, Kline said; in the past few days it has been transformed into a civil rights case.

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