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Supreme Court Allows Pennsylvania Couple to Sue PennDOT For Injuries Suffered in Crash with Guardrail

Sometimes, you may be injured due to the negligence of another driver. At other times, though, your injuries are not a result of the negligence of someone else behind the wheel, but are a result of the negligent design, inspection, or maintenance of roadways. When that happens, you may have a claim for compensation against the governmental entity responsible for that road. Injury lawsuits against governmental entities can be very tricky and potentially challenging to win, so you should make sure you have an experienced Pennsylvania car accident attorney handling your case.

An example of a case in which the injured plaintiffs were successful was one that began in Beaver County. In January 2015, Joisse and Dale were driving along State Route 551 when, as is not uncommon in Pennsylvania in mid-winter, they encountered a stretch of road with snow and ice on it. The wife, who was driving, lost control, spun out, and slammed into a guardrail. The worst of the damage happened, though, when the guardrail speared the side of the couple’s car, seriously injuring Joisse’s toe, foot, and leg, including multiple fractures.

The couple sued PennDOT over the guardrail accident. Their argument was that the department was negligent in installing a “boxing glove” style of guardrail that was not crashworthy and was also negligent in failing to inspect or correct the problems with the guardrail.

One of the reasons why lawsuits against governmental entities can be particularly challenging to win is that governments are immune from certain lawsuits that could be brought against private individuals, meaning that you are barred from pursuing those types of legal actions against a government or government agency. In Joisse and Dale’s case, that was what the department argued:  that Pennsylvania’s Sovereign Immunity Act prohibited a lawsuit like this.

The case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, and that court, in an important victory for people injured due to improper design, inspection, or maintenance of roads, said that the couple could go ahead and pursue their case. While the statute regarding sovereign immunity does apply to shield PennDOT in many circumstances, the law also creates certain situations in which that immunity is considered to be waived. A waiver of immunity means that, in that particular circumstance, you are allowed to sue the government. The court’s opinion explained that, in order for a waiver to exist, the thing causing the accident must have been dangerous and must have been a part of Commonwealth real estate, and the person injured must have been injured in a way that would have allowed them to sue if they were suing a private individual.

This couple cleared all of those hurdles with their arguments about the “boxing glove” type of guardrail end piece. That meant that their case fit within the category of “waiver of sovereign immunity.” In other words, the law in Pennsylvania allowed them to pursue compensation for damages caused by the allegedly defective guardrail.

While Joisse and Dale’s case involved several technical legal concepts like waiver and sovereign immunity, there’s a very straightforward lesson you can take from this outcome. Suing governmental entities for injuries they caused you can be challenging, but, just as in any type of injury case, you should never simply assume that you cannot succeed in your pursuit of recovery for the harm you suffered. Always consult knowledgeable counsel about your injury case first. The skilled Pennsylvania auto accident attorneys at Needle Law Firm have experience to provide you with the legal representation your case needs.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation by calling 570-344-1266.

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