Monday, May 8, 2023

Real Estate Exception to Immunity to PennDOT Applied in Case Where Tree Fell on Passing Motorist

In the case of Schmidt v. Penn. Dep’t. of Transp., No. 2019-CV-12057 (C.P. Montg. Co. Feb. 27, 2023 Saltz, J.), the court denied a Motion to Dismiss filed by PennDOT in a case involving a tree that fell upon a passing vehicle on a Commonwealth owned road.

PennDOT filed a Motion to Dismiss asserting sovereign immunity.

The court reviewed the real estate exception to sovereign immunity cases involving fallen trees.

The court noted that, while the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is generally immune from suit, the Pennsylvania legislature had waived that immunity in certain limited instances as outlined in 42 Pa. C.S.A. §8522(b).  The exception applicable in this case applied to alleged dangerous conditions on the Commonwealth’s real estate, highways, and sidewalks.

In this matter, the court found that the applicability of the real estate exception depending not on the characteristics of the portion of the tree that constituted the dangerous condition, but on the location of that portion of the tree with respect to the Commonwealth’s property.

The court determined that the Plaintiff had properly asserted that the tree fell within the Defendant’s right-of-way.  As such, the court rejected PennDOT’s argument that the exception did not apply because only a portion of the tree fell within that right-of-way.

The court additionally noted that the Plaintiff’s evidence presented to date, which included expert testimony, implicated the real estate exception to the sovereign immunity afforded to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in this case.

As such, the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment was denied.

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (March 21, 2023).

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