Thursday, December 1, 2022

Sovereign Immunity Supports Summary Judgment In Favor Of PennDOT Relative to Claims Regarding Placement of a Bus Stop

In the case of Essington v. Monroe County Transit Auth., No. 5117-CV-2020 (C.P. Monroe Co. Aug. 15, 2022 Williamson, J.), the court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendant, PennDOT, in a case involving a pedestrian Plaintiff who had exited a bus and was struck while crossing the roadway under nighttime conditions.

The Plaintiff alleged that PennDOT was negligent by allowing a dangerous condition to occur on its property, i.e., the roadway. More specifically, the Plaintiff alleged that PennDOT was negligent in the planning, designing, controlling, locating, and designation of a bus stop on a state road in a manner that created dangerous conditions.

The Plaintiff also faulted PennDOT for failing to erect signs, lights, guardrails, bus shelters, crosswalks, or other features to protect disembarking bus passengers.

In granting the Motion for Summary Judgment, the court relied upon the Sovereign Immunity Act under 42 Pa. C.S.A. §8522(b). 

The court found that none of the exceptions under that Act were applicable to the case presented. The court emphasized that, in order for liability to attach to PennDOT, a dangerous condition must derive, originate, or have its source that the Commonwealth realty. This is also known as the real estate exception to Sovereign Immunity.

Judge David J. Williamson noted that the Plaintiff’s allegations did not implicate any alleged defects on the land itself. The court noted that, had PennDOT installed the items noted by the Plaintiff, and those items were defective in some manner, then PennDOT could be held liable. However, under Pennsylvania law, the failure to install the items noted by the Plaintiff did not implicate an exception to the immunity afforded the governmental agency under Pennsylvania law.

The court additionally noted that where the Co-Defendant, Monroe County Transit Authority, chose to have a bus stop was not a material defect of the real estate itself and was not a condition created by PennDOT. 

Rather, the Co-Defendant, Monroe County Transit Authority, was the entity that chose where to have their bus stops. The court noted that the Plaintiff did not produce any evidence that PennDOT played any part in the decision to allow the bus stop in the area or any evidence that the business was a dangerous condition of the real estate itself.

The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that PennDOT was negligent for allowing the bus stop to exist and in failing to take steps to inspect, discover, or correct any defects, or to ensure that the real estate was safe for its regular and intended use as a bus stop. The court ruled that the real property exception to the Sovereign Immunity Act only applies to a dangerous condition of Commonwealth real estate and not to negligent policies or activities regarding real estate. The court noted that a failure to inspect has been previously ruled in Pennsylvania to be a policy or an activity which is not within the real estate exception to the immunity statute.

The court also noted that the intended use of the road was as a roadway for vehicular traffic and not for the placement of bus stops. As such, any allegations by the Plaintiff regarding a lack of lighting, narrow shoulders, or safe pedestrian accommodations such as crosswalks, sidewalks, or pedestrian crossing signs, were found not to relate to the design of the roadway itself or to its use as a roadway. As such, those allegations did not serve to defeat PennDOT’s Motion for Summary Judgment. In sum, the court found that the Plaintiff’s expert had not offered any opinion that the roadway itself as designed, caused the accident.

For all of these reasons, and others, the court granted summary judgment in favor of PennDOT.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK    

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Oct. 3, 2022).

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