Can I Sue the Government For Negligence?

Schuylkill

6ABC News reports that a man was fatally struck by a City of Philadelphia vehicle on the Schuylkill Expressway. The male victim and his girlfriend were traveling westbound on the expressway in two separate vehicles when his girlfriend’s car became disabled. The man stopped and got out his vehicle to assist his girlfriend when he was struck and killed by a Philadelphia Street Department vehicle. Can the family of the victim sue the City of Philadelphia?

In Pennsylvania, Title 42 Section 8541 of the Pennsylvania Code addresses a legal concept called governmental or sovereign immunity. Generally, the law provides that no local agency shall be liable for any personal injury or property damage caused by any act of the local agency or an employee. In other words, the government is immune from tort liability lawsuits or other legal actions arising from the activities of the government. The law is not as clear-cut due to the fact that many government agencies have waived liability in differing degrees under different circumstances.

An exception to the general rule applies when two factors are met. First, the damages must be recoverable under a common law or statute (this includes negligence), and there are no available defenses for the person responsible for the damaged. An example of a common defense is official immunity, which protects those holding official capacity, like policymaking. Secondly, the injury must have been caused by the negligent acts of the local agency or an employee acting within the scope of his office or duties with respect to one of the several categories listed below. In other words, the local agency or employee must have deviated from the reasonable standard of care as expected with someone in a similar position.

There are several categories where immunity may be disregarded and liability is imposed. An injured plaintiff may successfully sue under these categories:

  • The operation of a motor vehicle by a local agency or employee, so long as the plaintiff does not claim liability as a result of the plaintiff fleeing or resisting arrest by a police officer.

  • Personal property that is damaged while in the care, custody or control of the local agency.

  • Any real property damaged while in the care, custody or control of the local agency. This includes trees, traffic signs, streets, sidewalks, and facilities of steam, water, or sewerage. Liability is not imposed if the damage was sustained by a person intentionally trespassing the real property.

  • Any animal, except wild animals, injured while in the care, custody or control of the local agency.

  • A dangerous condition of trees, traffic signs, lights or other traffic controls, streetlights or street lighting systems under the care, custody or control of the local agency. Plaintiff must prove the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that was incurred and that the local agency had actual notice or could reasonably be charged with notice.

  • A dangerous condition of the any of the following: (1) facilities of steam, sewer, water, gas or electric systems; (2) street or; (3) sidewalk with the rights-of-way of streets owned by the local agency and located within rights-of-way. Plaintiff must show the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that was incurred and that the local agency had actual notice or could reasonably be charged with notice.

If you or a loved one has been injured by the negligent actions of a government agency, contact our experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorneys to secure the best outcome in your case. Contact our office at (215) 481-9979 for a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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