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Ruling Means More Liability Exposure for Government Vehicles

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has made it easier for individuals to sue over injuries caused by government vehicles.

Generally, the state has immunity from personal injury lawsuits. One exception is if someone is hurt by a government agency vehicle when it’s “in operation.” Last month, the Supreme Court broadened the meaning of “in operation.”

Past court rulings have read “in operation” to mean in movement, and also with a driver. But the high court said the vehicle didn’t have to be moving. It also held that if the vehicle were moving, it didn’t matter whether it was being driven or was driverless.

This latest ruling counters the high court’s 1988 ruling in Love v. City of Philadelphia. That ruling reversed a $375,000 verdict for a woman who fell getting into a parked city-owned van. In that case, the Supreme Court said “operation” was defined as “‘movement of the vehicle under the direction of an operator.’”

In the latest case, Balentine v. Chester Water Authority, the Supreme Court said the widow of a worker killed by a driverless municipal vehicle could sue — meaning, the vehicle liability exception to governmental immunity applies.

The man was working in a ditch when a water authority inspector pulled up and got out of his vehicle, leaving it partially in the roadway with the engine running. Another vehicle, hit the inspector’s car from behind, knocking it forward. It struck the worker, dragging him out of the ditch and killing him.

McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak and Davis has extensive experience handling personal injury and wrongful death cases, including against governmental agencies. For more information, call us at 215-981-0999 or email us at fperri@mpmpc.com.