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Pennsylvania Court Affirms Pain and Suffering Damages Under the Tort Claims Act When Bicyclist is Permanently Disabled

In a recent case, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed an award of damages for pain and suffering to an injured bike rider, based on the finding that she was permanently injured by the accident. Ms. Hutto, the plaintiff, was riding her bicycle when a tow truck owned and operated by the Philadelphia Parking Authority struck her. She sustained injuries to her shoulder and sued the Parking Authority and the driver in a personal injury action, arguing that the driver was negligent in the course and scope of his employment.

The Parking Authority denied liability and asserted the affirmative defense that they were immune under the act known as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (Tort Claims Act).  This Pennsylvania law holds local agencies immune from civil liability for their employees’ actions. An exception exists for injuries caused by the operation of an agency’s motor vehicle, as in the present case. However, damages for pain and suffering are recoverable only in cases of permanent loss of bodily function, permanent disfigurement, or permanent dismemberment.

During a non-jury trial, the trial court found that the Parking Authority was 100% negligent for the accident. Ms. Hutto was awarded economic damages to cover her medical expenses, loss of wages, and property damage. The trial court also concluded that she had satisfied the permanency requirement of the Tort Claims Act and awarded her $30,000 for pain and suffering, bringing her total to $36,432.70.

The Parking Authority filed a motion for post-trial relief, asserting immunity from damages for pain and suffering under the Tort Claims Act because Ms. Hutto had not proven she was permanently injured. They requested that the trial court modify its order and award the $6,432.70 in economic damages. After the trial court denied their motion, the Parking Authority appealed.

On appeal, the Parking Authority contended that Ms. Hutto only showed pain and suffering, not permanent injury. For the purposes of the Tort Claims Act, the significance is that an injured claimant may recover for pain and suffering if they have suffered a permanent injury.

The appeals court reviewed case law holding that permanent loss, for the purposes of the Tort Claims Act, means the injured claimant is unable to perform as they could before the injury.  This inability to perform must be permanent. This standard also includes pain that interferes with the ability to perform a bodily function.

Here, the court rejected the Parking Authority’s arguments. While Ms. Hutto testified that she can do “just about everything” that she did before the accident, the court stated that this is different from truly being able to do everything she did before the accident. She has not returned to the same active lifestyle she enjoyed prior to the accident, and the court stated this is not by choice, but by physical inability.

Reviewing the medical evidence, the court stated that the reports did not establish that Ms. Hutto failed to suffer permanent injury. The court made clear they could not reweigh the evidence considered by the trial court. Since the medical report was deemed competent evidence, it supports the trial court’s conclusion that Ms. Hutto suffered a permanent disability.

This case represents the importance of providing competent and effective evidence during bike accident lawsuits. At the Needle Law Firm, we advocate on behalf of injured individuals, helping them to secure compensation for their injuries. For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 570-344-1266.

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