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SAVITT v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

February 11, 1983

SYDNEY SAVITT and JACK SAVITT
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA and CRAIG E. DAVIS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

 BRODERICK, J.

 In this litigation, plaintiff Sydney Savitt ("Savitt") a resident of New York, contended that she was seriously injured when hit by a Philadelphia police car unable to come to a timely full stop at a red light when she was crossing Market Street at 10th Street in downtown Philadelphia. Trial was held before a jury from November 2, 1982 to November 10, 1982. Trial on the issue of liability was held from November 2, 1982 to November 4, 1982. On November 4, 1982, the jury reached a verdict and determined that Officer Craig Davis ("Davis"), the driver of the police car, was 65 percent causally negligent and that Mrs. Savitt was 35 percent causally negligent in bringing about the accident. Trial continued before the same jury on the issue of damages. On November 10, 1982, the jury returned a verdict and assessed damages in favor of Mrs. Savitt in the following amounts: $6,500 for past loss of wages; $8,000 for past medical expenses; and $20,000 for past and future pain and suffering. On December 14, 1982, a hearing was held for the purpose of determining what, if any, insurance payments plaintiff had received between July 2, 1979 and November 10, 1982 in connection with her treatment and injuries. For the reasons hereinafter set forth, the Court will enter judgment in favor of the defendants because plaintiff has received or is entitled to receive at least $6,500 in insurance benefits for lost wages and $8,000 in insurance benefits for medical expenses. This Court further finds that the applicable law in this case does not permit it to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff in connection with her pain and suffering.

 I. The Applicable Law

 In order to mold the verdict to properly conform to the plaintiff's legal rights of recovery, this Court must first determine the applicable law. Plaintiff contends that this Court should apply the New York no-fault automobile insurance law, N.Y. Insurance Law, § 670 (McKinney 1981), to the instant case and enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff for 65 percent of the damages which the jury determined she had suffered. Defendants contend that this action is not governed by the no-fault laws of either Pennsylvania or New York but by the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8541, et seq. (codified at 53 P.S. § 5311.201 at the time of plaintiff's injury) (hereinafter "Municipalities Tort Act), and that this statute, as applied to the jury's verdict in this case, bars an award of pain and suffering damages against the City defendants and also requires that the insurance benefits Mrs. Savitt has received or is entitled to receive be deducted from the damage awards assessed for lost earnings and medical expenses. For the reasons hereinafter set forth, the Court has determined that the defendants' contentions are correct and that the Municipalities Tort Act applies in this case.

 Both parties agree that Pennsylvania law applies to this case. This Court has also determined that Pennsylvania has the most significant relationship with this dispute, both in terms of the weight of contacts between Pennsylvania and the litigation and governmental interest of the forum state in this dispute. A federal court sitting in diversity will apply the choice of law principles of the forum state, Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., Inc., 313 U.S. 487, 61 S. Ct. 1020, 85 L. Ed. 1477 (1941); Melville v. American Home Assurance Co., 584 F.2d at 1306, 1308 (3d Cir. 1978). In determining the applicable law, Pennsylvania courts employ the "most significant relationship" test of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws coupled with governmental "interest analysis" to reach a quantitative and qualitative conclusion as to the location of the center of gravity of the matters at issue. See Melville v. American Home Assurance, 584 F.2d at 1311; CBS, Inc. v. Film Corporation of America, 545 F. Supp. 1382, 1385 (E.D. Pa. 1982). "Interest analysis" involves a qualitative appraisal of the relevant states' policies with respect to the controversy before the court so that the court may determine the state which has the most significant interest in the dispute. The Restatement (Second) examines the totality of the contact which each state has with various portions of the controversy, counting and weighing those contacts in order to determine which state possesses the "most significant relationship" with the dispute. Melville, supra, 584 F.2d at 1311.

 In this litigation, both government interest analysis and a counting and weighing of the contacts involved indicates that the law of Pennsylvania should be applied to this litigation. The accident occurred in Pennsylvania. The major defendant, the City of Philadelphia, is a Pennsylvania municipality. The other defendant, Officer Craig Davis, is a Pennsylvania resident and a member of the City's police force. Because the City is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the state has a strong governmental interest in applying Pennsylvania law to this proceeding. Furthermore, any award of damages to the plaintiff against the City of Philadelphia and probably against police officer Davis would be paid from the proceeds of taxes levied on Pennsylvania residents or those doing business in Pennsylvania. The only factor in this litigation not closely linked to the forum state is plaintiff's state of domicile. Mrs. Savitt is a domiciliary and resident of New York. However, this one contact does not, standing alone, outweigh the many factors showing Pennsylvania law to be the applicable law in this matter.

 Plaintiff's counsel maintains, however, that Pennsylvania law directs this Court to apply the no-fault automobile insurance law of New York in this matter. As support for this contention, which the Court rejects, plaintiff cites Pennsylvania's no-fault automobile insurance law, which provides in relevant part

 
The basic loss benefits available to any victim [of an automobile accident as defined in the no-fault statute] or to any survivor of a deceased victim shall be determined pursuant to the provisions of the state no-fault plan for motor vehicle insurance in effect in the state of domicile of the victim on the date when the motor vehicle accident resulting in injury occurs. If there is no such state no-fault plan in effect or if the victim is not domiciled in any state, then basic loss benefits available to any victim shall be determined pursuant to the provisions of the state no-fault plan for motor vehicle insurance, if any, in effect in the state in which the accident resulting in injury occurs.
 
The right of a victim or of a survivor of a deceased victim to sue in tort shall be determined by the law of the state of domicile of such victim. If a victim is not domiciled in a state, such right to sue shall be determined by the law of the state in which the accident resulting in injury or damage to property occurs.

 40 P.S. § 1009.110(c) (1), (2). In Swezey v. Home Indemnity Company, 691 F.2d 163 (3d Cir. 1982) the Third Circuit held that Section 1009.110(c) required that a Delaware domiciliary's medical benefits in connection with a Pennsylvania motor vehicle accident be determined by the no-fault statute of Delaware.

 Plaintiff contends that this section of the Pennsylvania no-fault statute invokes the New York no-fault statute because the collision between Mrs. Savitt and the police car driven by Officer Davis is a motor vehicle accident within the meaning of the Pennsylvania No-Fault Act and Mrs. Savitt is a domiciliary of New York. While plaintiff is correct in noting that the incident resulting in Mrs. Savitt's injury comes within the definition of a motor vehicle accident set forth in the Pennsylvania no-fault law (see 40 P.S. § 1009.103) and that, if the no-fault law governed this case, Mrs. Savitt's New York domicile would invoke the New York No-Fault Act. However, the Pennsylvania statute applicable to this action is not the No-Fault Act but the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8541, et seq. (codified at 53 P.S. § 5311, et seq. in 1979, the time of Mrs. Savitt's accident and injury) (hereinafter "Municipalities Tort Act").

 In 1976, the state legislature, reading Ayala as permitting such legislation, enacted a modified form of sovereign immunity in the form of the Municipalities Tort Act. See The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act: Pennsylvania's Response to the Problems of Municipal Tort Liability, 84 Dickinson L. Rev. 717 (1980). The new act was intended to be a comprehensive statute regulating the conduct of actions brought against Pennsylvania municipalities. See id. at 720-30. The act sought to accommodate "two fundamental but divergent interests: the need for the unhampered and effective functioning of cities, towns, and counties, and the equally desirable goal of redressing the injuries of the private individual." Id. at 718 (footnote omitted). The Act was held constitutional by the state Supreme Court in Carroll v. County of York, 496 Pa. 363, 437 A.2d 394 (1981).

 The format of the statute is straightforward. Section 8541 of Title 42 Pa. C.S.A. reimposes the sovereign immunity abrogated in Ayala by declaring

 
Except as otherwise provided in this subchapter, no local agency shall be liable for any damages on account of any injury to a person or property caused by any act of the local agency or an employee thereof or any other person.

 Section 8542 then sets forth the exceptions to the general rule of sovereign immunity for a select category of incidents; 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(b) specifically provides

 
The following acts by a local agency or any of its employees may result in the imposition of liability on a local agency:
 
(1) Vehicle liability. -- The operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency.

 Thus, the Act, while generally re-establishing sovereign immunity in Pennsylvania, sets forth an exception to this immunity where a person is injured by the operation of a municipal vehicle, as occurred to Mrs. Savitt. However, the Act also sets forth a number of limitations upon the damages which Mrs. Savitt, and any other plaintiff falling within one of the exceptions to immunity set forth in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542 may receive. Section 8553 provides:

 
(a) General rule. -- Actions for which damages are limited by reference to this subchapter shall be limited as set forth in this section.
 
(b) Amounts recoverable. -- Damages arising from the same cause of action or transaction or occurrence or series of causes of action or transactions or occurrences ...

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