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PA Supreme Court waives Sovereign Immunity Act, leaving PennDOT vulnerable for future litigation.

January 1, 2019
Cagey v. Commonwealth, 179 A.3d 458 (Pa. 2018)

The plaintiffs alleged negligence against PennDOT following a motor vehicle accident where they lost control of their vehicle on snow and ice and collided with a guardrail that pierced the side of the vehicle, resulting in injuries to Mrs. Cagey. PennDOT filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, arguing the Sovereign Immunity Act barred the plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court granted PennDOT’s judgment on the pleadings, which was affirmed by the Commonwealth Court, who relied upon precedent in Fagan v. Commonwealth, Dep’t of Transp., 946 A.2d 1123 (Pa. Commw. 2006). Fagan held that where a guardrail existed, the failure to design it differently or the failure to maintain it were not dangerous conditions of roadways for which immunity was waived either for the Commonwealth or local government. In reviewing the Act, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged that a dangerous condition of Commonwealth agency real estate caused their injuries and that damages would have been recoverable at common law absent the protections of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity was held to be waived, and it was determined that PennDOT may be held liable for any damages caused by the negligent installation or design of the guardrails at issue in the litigation. The Supreme Court’s holding, which appears to have overruled long-standing precedent in Fagan, may result in a significant increase in litigation for PennDOT, who, it appears, will now be required to defend themselves following accidents involving contact by a vehicle with a highway guardrail, as opposed to merely claiming that the protections of the Sovereign Immunity Act make PennDOT immune. 

 

Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2019

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