Filing a Suit Against a PA Government Agency Over a Car Crash Just Got Easier

September 6, 2018

Over the past five years in Pennsylvania, if a vehicle owned and operated by a municipal entity in the Commonwealth (such as SEPTA or the local water authority) was involved in a collision while the vehicle wasn’t in motion, the Commonwealth or entity was not liable for paying any damages.

This means if a car owned by a municipal entity was parked illegally on the road or positioned vulnerably in the roadway, and you hit it, you would not be able to bring a suit against that person or authority even if the primary reason for the crash was the way the vehicle was parked.

These suits were banned by Pennsylvania’s Sovereign Immunity Act. The Act only allows the Commonwealth itself to be sued for damages in specific limited cases and only for a limited amount of damages. In a vehicle accident involving a Commonwealth vehicle, prior court rulings determined that if a vehicle owned by a state entity was not moving (parked or stopped) then the state or its entity is immune from suit.

Huge Win for Injured Vehicle Crash Victims

The law has finally changed due to a decision made by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on August 21st. The PA Supreme Court ruled that a public vehicle does not have to be in motion for a government entity to be liable if someone is hurt or killed by it. The new PA Supreme Court ruling reverses prior decisions that ignored the health and safety of individuals in favor of government, insurance companies, and big business.

Why was the Prior Ruling Changed?

The case that led to the reversal was BALENTINE v. CHESTER WATER AUTHORITY. Edwin Omar Medina-Flores was a subcontractor for a water line project for the Chester Water Authority (CWA). On August 15, 2012, Medina-Flores was working in a ditch for the CWA when a CWA project inspector arrived in a CWA truck, parked next to the ditch, and left the vehicle’s engine running and four-way flashers operating. While the inspector was out of the truck reviewing construction plans with his work crew, another vehicle rear-ended the CWA truck, which then struck and killed Medina-Flores.

Witnesses said the CWA truck was illegally parked almost completely within the traffic lane near the ditch where Medina-Flores was working.

The victim’s widow filed a lawsuit against the CWA, the CWA inspector, and both the driver and owner of the vehicle that crashed into the truck. The lower courts ruled that because the CWA truck was “parked” with its four-way flashers on, the state was immune from suit under the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act.

The issue before the Supreme Court was “whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding that the involuntary movement of a vehicle does not constitute operation of a motor vehicle for purposes of the vehicle liability exception to governmental immunity under 42 Pa. C.S. § 8542(b)(1).” The court ruled that, “because we determine that movement of a vehicle, whether voluntary or involuntary, is not required by the statutory language of the vehicle liability exception, we reverse the order of the Commonwealth Court thereby allowing this matter to proceed in the trial court.”

McEldrew Purtell regularly litigates cases like this every day. Our team is ready to assist you if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in any kind of vehicle incident anywhere in the United States. Contact our team of lawyers at McEldrew Purtell today by calling 215-367-5151.