Thursday, May 11, 2023

Alleged Negligence Regarding Pedestrian Crossing Sign Found to Fall Within Real Estate Exception to Sovereign Immunity

In the case of Estate of Patterson v. Rockefeller Group Int. Inc., No. 2022-CV-0060 (C.P. Leh. Co. Aug. 22, 2022 Johnson, P.J.), the court found that a Plaintiff’s wrongful death claim against PennDOT was not barred by the sovereign immunity doctrine where the Plaintiff alleged that an artificial condition in the form of an allegedly non-functioning pedestrian crossing sign along a highway that was allegedly under the control of PennDOT was the cause of the Plaintiff’s injuries.

The Preliminary Objections filed by PennDOT in his case were denied in part and sustained in part.

The Plaintiff alleged that the decedent was struck and killed by a motor vehicle while crossing an intersection on a street undergoing a road-widening project. The Plaintiff alleged that the decedent was crossing the road in an area that PennDOT was responsible for and in which the pedestrian crossing sign had inoperable flashing yellow lights that were covered.

In response to PennDOT’s efforts to have the case dismissed under the Sovereign Immunity Act, the court found that the Plaintiff’s allegations of a breach of the Defendant’s duty to properly maintain a pedestrian crossing sign was an action in negligence that satisfied the first prong for defeating the Defendant’s assertion of sovereign immunity, i.e., the statement of a valid cause of action for negligence.

The court found that the second prong under the Sovereign Immunity Act required the Plaintiff to establish that the negligent act complained of fell within any of ten (10) exceptions to sovereign immunity.

Among its claims, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant PennDOT installed an item as part of its real estate, namely a pedestrian crossing sign adjacent to a public highway, in a manner that created a hazardous condition.

The court found that this allegation was sufficient to invoke the real estate exception to sovereign immunity. As such, the court found that the Plaintiff had stated a valid cause of action which was not subject to dismissal.

PennDOT also asserted that the Plaintiff’s claims of recklessness and willful indifference should be stricken because the Sovereign Immunity Act only allowed claims for negligence in certain circumstances.

The court found that the Defendant was correct in arguing that the Plaintiff’s claims are recklessness and willful indifference were legally invalid. Under the express terms the Sovereign Immunity Act, sovereign immunity is only waived in actions against the Commonwealth for damages arising out of negligent acts.

The court also reviewed the remainder of the Plaintiff’s allegations which allege various failures to act on the part of PennDOT. The court found that those claims were barred as it was well-established that claims against the Commonwealth based upon a failure to act are barred by the sovereign immunity doctrine.

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (April 11, 2023).

Source of image:  Photo by Lukas Hartman on

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