Erie Snow Plow Accident Lawyer
An Erie, Pennsylvania snow plow accident can be complex and confusing, even more so when it comes to sorting out who has what insurance coverage and who the at-fault party is if you have been involved in an accident with a government vehicle. If the at-fault party is the government vehicle, things get even more confusing due to the State doctrine of “governmental immunity.” “Governmental immunity” was passed into law to protect municipalities from going bankrupt.
To recover non-economic damages (pain and suffering) in the aftermath of a collision with a government vehicle, the injured party must prove at least one of the following: death, permanent disfigurement, permanent loss of a bodily function, or permanent dismemberment where medical/dental costs exceed $1,500.
The injured party/plaintiff must provide notice to the governmental agency that is responsible for the harm within six (6) months of the date of the injury.
Let’s say you were involved in a car accident with a snow plow owned and operated by the City of Erie. You were following along behind the plow as it cleared the roads when it stopped and then started to backup – right into the front of your car. Clearly the plow operator was at-fault for not paying attention to his surroundings and the police cited him for backing improperly.
The driver of the car was informed that under Pennsylvania’s state governmental immunity law, the City of Erie would be limited, according to their liability insurance, to paying the vehicle owner’s deductible and providing a rental. This is thanks to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, the law that protects governments from liability for problems they cause while providing public services.
This is not to say that government entities can get off scot-free because they can be held responsible/liable under limited circumstances that include negligence. However, the exceptions to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act are difficult to prove and narrowly defined.
In this snow plow versus car example, the vehicle damaged was covered by collision insurance. If the car had not had insurance, then local government insurance would have paid. However, because there was coverage, the local government only pays the deductible.
Sovereign Immunity and Government Immunity
Personal injury lawyers are familiar with governmental immunity laws in their communities and also know that officials acting for the government, within the scope of their duties, may be immune from lawsuits as well. This is known by another name, “sovereign immunity,” which refers to claims against the State or the Federal Government. “Governmental immunity” refers to claims against local municipal officials or the municipalities themselves.
The difference between these two immunities, or Pennsylvania statutes, is very important when it comes to filing a lawsuit because even though the courts abolished both immunities in the 70s, the legislature brought them back in 1980 and passed the Sovereign Immunity Act and the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. And that is the legal landscape present in Pennsylvania today when a government vehicle is involved in a collision with another vehicle.
Sovereign Immunity Act and the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act
The Sovereign Immunity Act applies to claims against Pennsylvania State agencies and has a ceiling of $250,000 in damages for any one plaintiff or $1,000,000 for all persons injured in the same accident. Five types of damages are permitted:
- Loss of past earnings
- Future loss of earnings/earning capacity
- Pain/suffering (under limited circumstances)
- Medical costs
- Loss of consortium
- Property losses (with some exceptions)
Note: Within six months after an injury and/or property damage accident, the plaintiff must provide written notice of a lawsuit. It must include the plaintiff’s name, address, location, date, hour of the accident and the address of the doctor who provided any treatment at the time. If notice is not filed within the six-month period, any lawsuit is barred. There are no exceptions.
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act does not allow lawsuits against local municipalities, but there are some exceptions, such as:
- Operating a vehicle
- Control, care, custody of personal or other’s personal property in the possession/control of a local agency
- Control, care, custody of real property in possession of a local agency
- Control, care, custody of street lighting, trees, traffic controls which create dangerous conditions
- The dangerous condition of service facilities for utilities
- The dangerous condition of streets
- The dangerous condition of sidewalks
- Control, care, custody of animals
- Any official committing willful misconduct cannot claim immunity
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act limits damages and restricts the types of damages that may be recovered. It also limits damages to a maximum of $500,000 by a single plaintiff or in the aggregate.
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act permits recovery for loss of support, and limits recovery for pain and suffering due to: death, or only in the case of permanent disfigurement, permanent loss of a bodily function, or permanent dismemberment where dental/medical costs exceed $1,500.
It is important to note that if there is insurance coverage for the plaintiff’s damages, any insurance recovery must be deducted from any awards against a local government.
Both of these acts are not only confusing, but complex and subject to change regularly. The skilled legal counsel provided by Melaragno, Placidi & Parini ensures that your right to sue the government is protected.
Matt was awesome!!!
He handled everything so I didn’t have to worry and could just focus on my recovery and get back to work. He was always available and quick to return my phone calls and emails with the answers I needed. My case was handled quickly and with no added stress to me or my family. I would recommend Matt to anyone in need of assistance after a motor vehicle accident.