I was recently approached by a potential client who sustained injuries when his car was struck by a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) bus that had run a red light. The client was facing mounting medical bills, lost time from work, an uncertain medical prognosis, future lost income, and had endured a great deal of pain, suffering, and anguish as a result of the accident. The client presumptively asked me: “I can’t sue SEPTA, can I”?
The client’s question led me to realize that there is a perception among many members of the public that state governmental agencies and/or entities such as SEPTA are wholly immune from suit. While it is true that agencies of the Commonwealth are entitled to sovereign immunity, the immunity is not absolute. A lawsuit may proceed against a commonwealth agency if the negligent act falls within one of the exceptions of the Pennsylvania Sovereign Immunity Act.
Once such exception to sovereign immunity is the vehicle liability exception which applies to acts of a commonwealth entity, such as SEPTA, arising from: “The operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of a Commonwealth party.” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8522(b)(1). In this particular case, the client was injured by the negligent operation of a SEPTA bus which was in the possession and control of a Commonwealth party, namely, SEPTA. Accordingly, the client was entitled to pursue a negligence lawsuit for damages against SEPTA. Or, in this case, yes, you CAN sue SEPTA.
In addition to the vehicle liability exception to sovereign immunity, there are numerous other exceptions applicable to various circumstances. For example, there is a medical-professional liability exception which permits professional negligence claims to proceed against medical facilities, health care employees, doctors and dentists of the Commonwealth. There is a real estate exception which permits negligence claims to proceed that arise from a dangerous condition in real estate, sidewalks, and highways owned and/or leased by the Commonwealth. There is also a liquor store sales exception which permits actions for damages caused by the sale of liquor at a Pennsylvania liquor store to a minor or to a visibly intoxicated or insane person.
In addition to the Commonwealth exceptions to immunity, there are a number of similar exceptions that apply to negligent actions committed by local government agencies and/or entities. For example, public school districts and their bus drivers may be considered a local government agency and subject to liability for actions arising from the negligent operation of a school bus.
There are many nuances to the way in which the exceptions to sovereign immunity are applied and there are numerous other factors to consider when pursuing a commonwealth and/or local agency/entity. If your or a loved one has been injured and/or hurt on government property or by the actions or inactions of a government entity or agency, it is important that you have your case evaluated by an experienced attorney. The amount of time you have to pursue a claim is limited by law, and, it is therefore important that you act expeditiously. Please contact Goebert Law LLC for a free consultation and evaluation of any claim you may wish to pursue against the Commonwealth and/or a local agency/entity.