Pennsylvania Court Holds Dangerous Condition Derived From Conduct of City Employees and Not Condition of Property
In a case before the Commonwealth Court, the issue was whether the City of Reading was immune from liability in a negligence lawsuit. The general rule is that local agencies are immune from tort liability, such as negligence actions, under Pennsylvania law. Exceptions to this immunity exist, and the one at issue in this lawsuit concerned dangerous conditions created by utility service facilities.
In this case, the City of Reading needed to conduct a repair on a sanitary sewer main. They began excavating a site and discovered an electrical duct bank, which is a series of conduits or ducts made of piping, holding underground electrical wire. Metropolitan Edison Company (Met-Ed) owned the duct bank.
Reading employees noted the poor condition of the duct bank. A portion of the concrete holding the duct bank had collapsed. Met-Ed was notified of the condition by Reading, and a Met-Ed contractor inspected and repaired the duct bank.
Reading continued its excavation work, but employees noticed that the duct bank was falling away from the wall. The Met-Ed contractor returned to the site and noted that the excavated hole was deeper, and there was increased erosion. The repaired duct bank was still intact. Eventually, the duct bank fully collapsed, while Reading continued its excavation work.
Met-Ed alleged that Reading was negligent and caused the collapse of the duct bank. Reading moved for summary judgment on the grounds that it was immune from liability. The trial court held that Reading was negligent and awarded Met-Ed damages for $53,000. Reading appealed.
The appellate court stated the general rule that local agencies are immune from tort liability. But an exception to this rule includes dangerous conditions of local agency facilities, located within rights of way. These include water, sewer, and electric systems. The law makes clear that the condition of the property must have caused the injury. In other words, the dangerous condition created a foreseeable risk of the kind of injury that was incurred, and the agency knew or should have known of the dangerous condition.
Reading argued that the conduct of its employees caused the dangerous condition, rather than its facilities. In their analysis, the appellate court reviewed the findings of the trial court. First, the trial court had found that the unstable condition of dirt and soil was the dangerous condition. But this dangerous condition did not originate in Reading’s facilities. It was due to the conduct of Reading employees during the excavation. When employees removed soil underneath the duct bank, they did not use shoring or support to stabilize the bank. Nor did they properly backfill the excavated hole. The court stated that the conduct of the employees created the dangerous condition.
The court reversed the trial court’s order holding the City of Reading negligent.
More Blog Posts:
Pennsylvania Appeals Court Affirms State Court Lacks Jurisdiction over Employee Injured Outside of Pennsylvania, Scranton Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 17, 2015
Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds that General Contractor is Employer and Immune from Tort Liability, Scranton Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, October 17, 2015