Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Summary Judgment Denied in Missing Stop Sign Case




In a recent trial court decision in the case of Tesla v. Neshanock Twp., No. 10647 of 2013, C.A. (C.P. Lawrence Co. Jan. 19, 2017 Motto, J.), the court found that a township was not entitled to summary judgment in an auto accident case where the township was found to have had constructive notice that a stop sign was missing prior to the time the accident occurred.  
 
According to the Opinion, due to the missing stop sign, a vehicle did not stop at the intersection, resulting in the Plaintiff’s vehicle being broadsided in the course of an automobile accident. 
 
The Plaintiff filed suit, in part, against the township, alleging that the township was negligent in failing to adequate inspect its traffic signs, failing to reinstall or replace the stop sign, failing to position the stop sign so that it would not be knocked down, and failing to install adequate lighting at the intersection.  
 
When the township claimed sovereign immunity, the Plaintiffs asserted that this case fell under an exception to that immunity law which exception applies if the government entity had actual or constructive notice of the alleged defect.  
 
According to the court's opinion, there was evidence in this case that the investigating police officer told the Plaintiff’s daughter at the scene of the accident that the stop sign had been missing because it had been knocked over by a truck earlier in the day, that this was a dangerous intersection, and that the police officer regularly patrolled the area.  The court found that the police officer was an agent of the township and, as such, his statements will be admissible.  
 
The court also found that, once the township had knowledge of the missing stop sign, the need to take steps to protect against this dangerous condition was immediate.   The dangers brought on by a missing stop sign due to the possibility that a driver would not be aware that the intersection was previously controlled by a stop sign was so great that the intersection needed to be protected immediately.  
 
There was also evidence presented in this case that the missing stop sign was a reoccurring situation at this particular intersection as it was a tight turn for trucks, which had caused multiple vehicles to knock over the stop sign previously. 
 
In light of all of these findings, including the finding that this was a busy intersection and that the stop sign had been down for a number of hours before the accident, the court found that there was sufficient evidence from which a jury could find that the township had constructive notice of the defect.  Accordingly, the township’s Motion for Summary Judgment was denied.    

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this case may click this LINK. 

 

Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions.”  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (February 14, 2017).

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