RESTREPO LAW

531 Court Street

Reading, PA  19601

 

610-373-3339

 

SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY

 

Everyone loves the Government. The Government through the History of the United States has made sure to protect itself from legal claims. Since the government makes the rules, it made rules to protect itself. In Pennsylvania as with the Federal Government, it has done so. This is called Soverein Immunity.

A police car on duty hits your car causing you injuries. What is your recourse against the police officer and the Police Department? First, the police officer and Police Department are protected by Sovereign Immunity.

In Pennsylvania, Sovereign Immunity can be a stonewall defense. In order to recover money for your pain and suffering, inconvenience, loss of ability to be active, you have to prove a "permanent loss of a body function." Thus, you don't get anything unless you can't move your arm forever, leg forever or some other body part forever. Nobody wants to suffer a permanent loss of a body function just to get money. Also, often it is very hard to prove that you will suffer a permanent loss of a body function. Who knows? Maybe you will regain use of that arm in 20 years.

Thus, the Municipality (City, County, or Borough) and the Police Officer are only responsible for any Unpaid Medical Bills and Wage Loss. These are Economic Damages for which the Police Department continues to be liable. The same hold true if you Slip and Fall or Trip and Fall on City Owned Property.

The Government is also protected in Pennsylvania by a much shorter notice period. In Pennsylvania you have to notify a government of an injury within six months of the injury for you to be successful in pursuing a claim. In any other injury claim, you have two years to bring a law suit from the time of the accident. This is known as the Statute of Limitations.

The roots of Sovereign Immunity are Section 11 of Article1 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania in which is declared that Officials and an Employee acting within the scope of their duties enjoys Sovereign Immunity and Official Immunity and remain immune from suit unless that Immunity is waived. There are exceptions to Sovereign Immunity. They are, Motor Vehicle Liability, Medical-Professional Liability, Care Custody of Control of Personal Property, Real Estate, Sidewalks, Potholes and other Dangerous Conditions of Highways, Care Custody Control of Animals, Liquor Store Sales, National Guard Activities, and Toxic and Vaccines. Each one of these exceptions has further exceptions.

For example, a condition of a sidewalk that is dangerous and owned by City or State or Municipality is an exception to the general immunity enjoyed by the government. Thus, if you get hurt on the sidewalk owned by the city, you could still make a claim.

Then there is the exception to the exception. If you slip and fall on ice or wet leaves on a sidewalk on a property owned by the government, you have no recourse. That is because the only liability accepted by the government is dangerous condition that "derived, originated, or had its source in the government property itself." Therefore, only if there was a raised pipe that had its source in the sidewalk and caused you to trip and fall can you make a claim. You cannot make a claim for naturally occurring substances that fall onto the sidewalk because the snow, ice, sleet, or rain was not "derived, originated, or had its source in the government property."

The same holds true if you Slip and Fall or Trip and Fall in a road which is owned or controlled by the government. Since you slip and fall on naturally accumulating substances of ice, snow, rain or sleet, those sources of your injury do not originate or derive from the road itself. Thus, there is no liability and no recovery.

On the other hand, if you Trip and Fall in a huge pothole in the street, you can sue the city or other municipality because that hole did originate or derive from the property itself and was not caused by something landing on top of the property.

 

Here's another example. An employee at a University Dining Facility slips and falls on a wet condition of the floor in a cafeteria. Once again, since the wetness on the floor was on the floor and not a part of the floor, the State University is immune from a legal claim.   On the other hand, if the employee had tripped and fallen over a tile whose edge was turned up, she would have a legal claim because the turned up corner of a tile in the Dining Room Floor is a part of the dining room floor for which the State University is responsible.

 

Now for the exception to the exception to the exception. Pennsylvania Courts have held that tiled floors in shower facilities could be seen as defective because the tile floor itself did not have a non-skid surface even though the slip and fall was caused by water falling onto the non-skid tile floor. The theory is that it was not the water falling onto the floor so much as the lack of a non-skid tile surface that created the injury. Therefore, the government was responsible for the defective tile floor.

 

Likewise, Pennsylvania Courts have held that when somebody was injured on a High School gymnasium floor, even though the floor didn't cause the injury, the lack of protective matting provided a basis for liability.

 

Pennsylvania Law in this area is extensive. The important thing to remember is that generally the government enjoys liability from negligence claims. The injured person needs to talk to a lawyer who understands the exceptions and the exceptions to the exceptions to see if your legal claim against the Government can overcome its Sovereign Immunity.