Thursday, February 25, 2021

Failure to Meet Six Month Notice Requirement under PSTCA Not Always Fatal to the Case

In the case of Ohler v. Fayette County Area Voc.-Tech Sch., No. 135 of 2019 G.D. (C.P. Fayette Co. April 27, 2020 Cordaro, J.), the court denied a school’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in a personal injury matter in which the school asserted immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was exiting a school bathroom when the door closed on her finger and severed the tip. The Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the Defendant for her injuries and damages.

The Defendant filed a Motion on the Judgment on the Pleadings asserting that it was entitled to immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

The court noted that immunity would be denied to a local agency such that a school district where there was negligence that made the government-owned property unsafe for the activities for which it was regularly used, for which it was intended to be used, or for a use that could be reasonably foreseen.

The court also noted that, under the Political Subdivision Claims Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A §8542, there was an exception to the general immunity rule for real property in possession of a local agency.

In this case, the court noted that, under the Act, personal property could become a part of the realty at the school, which would then trigger the immunity exception. As the court noted that it was unclear from the pleading whether the bathroom door was personal property or a fixture, the court held that the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings was without merit in this respect.

The court also rejected the Defendant’s contention that the Plaintiff’s notification letter to the Defendant was outside the six-month statute of limitations stated in 42 Pa. C.S.A. §5522.

Although the record confirmed that the Plaintiff’s notification letter was outside of the six (6) month window, the court noted that the Defendant, in its motion had ignored a part of the statute.

The court confirmed that, under 42 Pa. C.S.A. §5522(a)(3), a failure to provide a timely tort claims notice was not necessarily fatal to the action if the government unit had actual or constructive notice of the event or injury.

In this matter, the Plaintiff alleged that teachers, the school nurse, and other school personnel attended to the Plaintiff on the day of her injury. As such, the court found that the Defendant school had constructive notice such that the six-month limitation under the Act did not apply.

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Weekly Law (Jan. 12, 2021).

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