I just wrote a post on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision to re-visit when schools and municipalities may be held liable for dangerous conditions on their properties.
The case I wrote about was Brewington v. City of Philadelphia, 149 A.3d 901 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2016). The PA Supreme Court will decide in Brewington whether a School’s failure to have mats on its walls in a gym class is a real estate defect that triggers liability.
My blog post referenced the very artificial distinction of how the real estate exception is applied. A recent Lycoming County opinion illustrates my earlier comments.
Lycoming Opinion Rejects Slip & Fall on Ice Claim
In Grady v. Montgomery County School District, the plaintiff claimed that, as she approached a High School to attend a play, she stepped up over a curb and placed her right foot on the sidewalk, immediately slipping and injuring herself. Plaintiff alleges the “sidewalk was permeated with a thin coat of ice”. She brought claims of negligence and premises liability against the District and the High School for failing to remove the ice prior to the arrival of invited guests such as herself.
The court rejected the claim on summary judgment because ice on top of a sidewalk is not a defect within the real estate.
8 Narrow Exceptions to Immunity
The court began its opinion by noting that schools (and municipalities) are immune from suit unless claims fall within eight narrow exceptions to immunity. It cited the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion in Finn v. City of Philadelphia, 645 A.2d 320, 325 (Pa. Commw. 1994), which held that “in cases involving the sidewalk exception to governmental immunity, liability can be imposed on the government entity only if the plaintiff’s injury is caused by a defect or a dangerous condition which originates from the sidewalk itself.”
Since ice is on the sidewalk but is not a defect in the real estate itself, the court said there was no liability.
There are other provisions in Pennsylvania’s Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act which add other protections for municipalities and which will be the subject of further posts.
This does not suggest there is no basis to sue government bodies for injuries suffered on their properties. It does stress the importance of being able to navigate the exceptions to liability to state a viable claim.