Erie Garbage Truck Accident Lawyer

An Erie, Pennsylvania garbage truck accident can be confusing when it comes to sorting out who has what insurance coverage and who the at-fault party is in an accident. Some government units contract with private companies who perform waste removal for a town or city and some government units remove garbage with a government vehicle. If the at-fault party is the government vehicle, the State doctrine of “governmental immunity” comes into play. There are different rules for accidents involving government vehicles. Governmental immunity became law to safeguard municipalities from bankruptcy.

The same things that result in conventional auto accidents, can cause garbage truck collisions, such as:

  • The driver being under the influence of alcohol
  • The driver being under the influence of a drug (street or prescription)
  • Reckless driving
  • Blind spot accidents
  • Texting while driving
  • Unfamiliarity with a route or area of the city
  • Driver negligence
  • Falling debris
  • Failure to maintain the vehicle properly
  • Failure to see pedestrians/other vehicles

Victims of garbage truck accidents in Erie are other vehicles and their driver or passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists, joggers, elderly people, handicapped people, children and adults. Due to the size of garbage trucks there is a very high risk of causing severe injuries or death even in low speed accidents.

For example, you or your loved one were involved in an accident with a government owned garbage truck in Erie where the driver of the truck rear-ended you as you were waiting to turn left at a light. It appeared that the garbage truck driver was trying to access an alley on the left hand side. The accident sent you to hospital with serious injuries. The police cited the truck driver for speeding.

Recovering damages

To recover damages for pain and suffering following a collision with a Pennsylvania garbage truck, the injured party/plaintiff must prove at least one of the following:

  • Death
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Permanent loss of a bodily function
  • Permanent dismemberment where dental/medical costs exceeds $1,500.

The plaintiff/claimant must provide notice to the governmental agency responsible for the accident within six (6) months of the occurrence of the injury/accident.

Despite the police citing the garbage truck driver for speeding, you were told that under Pennsylvania’s state governmental immunity law, Erie is limited to paying the vehicle owner’s deductible and providing a rental. This is due to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, the law protecting governments from liability for problems caused while providing public services.

This is not to say that government entities get a free pass in accident situations as 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 garbage truck collision 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 versus Governmental Immunity

Personal injury lawyers are familiar with governmental immunity laws 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 municipalities themselves.

The difference between these two Pennsylvania statutes is 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.

What the Acts says

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 consortium
  • Property losses (with some exceptions)
  • Loss of past earnings
  • Pain/suffering (under limited circumstances)
  • Medical/dental costs
  • Future loss of earnings/earning capacity

Note: Within six months of an injury and/or property damage accident, the plaintiff must provide written notice of a lawsuit. It must include the claimant’s name, address, location, date and time of the accident, and the address of the doctor providing any treatment. If notice is not filed within the six-month time frame, 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:

  • The dangerous condition of sidewalks
  • Control, care, custody of animals
  • Any official committing wilful misconduct cannot claim immunity
  • Operating a vehicle
  • 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
  • Control, care, custody of personal other’s personal property in the possession/control of a local agency
  • Control, care, custody of real property in possession of a local agency

The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act limits damages and restricts damage types 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 Placidi, Parini, Grasinger & Page 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.

Government entities get a free pass in accident situations as they can be held responsible under limited circumstances that include negligence.