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RUTH V. SMITH v. CITY PHILADELPHIA AND PHILADELPHIA GAS WORKS AND PHILADELPHIA FACILITIES MANAGEMENT CORPORATION (10/03/86)

decided: October 3, 1986.

RUTH V. SMITH, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF HARRY F. SMITH, DECEASED AND RITA LADZENSKY, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GERALD LADZENSKY, DECEASED AND CHARLES ALEXANDER SCOTT, APPELLEES,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA AND PHILADELPHIA GAS WORKS AND PHILADELPHIA FACILITIES MANAGEMENT CORPORATION, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, May Term, 1982, No. 6409 dated April 3, 1984.

COUNSEL

Ruth Rudbarg Wessel, E. Parry Warner, Obermayer, Rebmann, Maxwell & Hippel, Philadelphia, for Philadelphia Gas Works and Philadelphia Facilities Management Corp.

Barbara R. Axelrod, Deputy City Solicitor, Philadelphia, for City of Philadelphia.

Charles W. Craven, Philadelphia, for amicus curiae City of Allentown.

David F. Binder, Philadelphia, for Ruth V. Smith and Rita Ladzensky.

Theodore A. Schwartz, Philadelphia, for Charles Alexander Scott.

Andrew S. Gordon, Sr. Deputy Atty. Gen.

Herman Bloom, Philadelphia, for the O'Farrells.

Stanley P. Stern, Philadelphia, for Maslanys.

John F. Lewis, Philadelphia, for Genevieve Misko.

Joseph I. Fineman, Robert P. Corbin, Philadelphia, for Mysyzyn and Dunas.

Lawrence G. Metzger, Philadelphia, for the Ditros.

Harry L. Clark, Philadelphia, for Munford and Haskins.

John P. Pucci, Philadelphia, for Philadelphia Elec. Co.

Lee Mandell, Philadelphia, for Gregory Williams.

Thomas J. Mettee, Philadelphia, for Miroslav Smatana.

William T. Steerman, Philadelphia, for Juan Cancellieri.

Ralph D. Friedman, Jenkintown, for Charles Wyse.

Albert W. Sheppard, Jr., Philadelphia, for Annalee Nelson.

Gerald Solverman, Philadelphia, for Irene R. Nichols.

T. Jonathan Hankin, Philadelphia, for Stanley Piotrowski.

Louis Matkoff, Philadelphia, for Donald and Annabelle Scott.

Reginald H. Holder, Philadelphia, for Herbert Summers.

Ronald A. Smith, Philadelphia, for Earl J. Weiser.

Jerome Gamburg, Philadelphia, for Joseph Conley.

Joan Gerson, Philadelphia, for SEPTA.

Richard C. Glazer, Philadelphia, for General Acc. Group, et al.

E. Douglas Sederholm, Philadelphia, for Stanley L. Krajewski, et al.

Raymond Quaglia, Philadelphia, for Henry Demtschuk, et al.

Joseph J. Witiw, Warminster, for Raymond Londer, et al.

Thomas F. Wilson, for Geo. and Cynthia Martin.

Thadeus J. Bartkowski, Philadelphia, for Borecki and Sucharski.

Dennis E. Haggerty, Philadelphia, for Elaine May Brown.

E. Harris Baum, Philadelphia, for Robert Carpino.

Barry H. Oxenburg, Philadelphia, for Wm. C.T. Clarke, III.

Robert J. Murphy, Towanda, for Kahrklin and Serici.

F. Emmett Ciccone, Philadelphia, for Edmund Kasiewski.

James F. Mundy, Philadelphia, for Sophia Conrad.

Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Nix, C.j., joins the majority opinion and files a separate concurring opinion. Hutchinson, J., joins Part I of the majority opinion and joins in a separate concurring opinion by Zappala, J. Zappala, J., joins in Part I of the majority opinion and files a concurring opinion joined by Hutchinson, J. Larsen, J., files a dissenting opinion which Papadakos, J., joins. Papadakos, J., files a dissenting opinion joined by Larsen, J.

Author: Flaherty

[ 512 Pa. Page 132]

OPINION OF THE COURT

Section 8553 of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, Act of October 5, 1980, P.L. 693, No. 142 § 221(1), as amended, 42 Pa C.S.A. § 8553, limits recovery of damages against political subdivisions of the Commonwealth to $500,000 in the aggregate for legally cognizable tort injuries arising from the same transaction. The question in this case is whether this limitation is constitutionally permissible.

On May 11, 1979 a gas explosion in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia killed seven persons, injured many others, and caused extensive property damage. Forty-four separate actions on behalf of seventy-two claimants were filed for property damage, death and personal injury. After their initial tort claims had been filed, Ruth V. Smith and two other plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act is unconstitutional in its limitation of damages to an aggregate amount of $500,000.

Plaintiffs also moved for summary judgment in the declaratory judgment action. The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and held that the provision of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, which limits damages to an aggregate amount of $500,000, violates Art. III, Section 18 of the

[ 512 Pa. Page 133]

Pennsylvania Constitution, Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

A direct appeal to this Court was taken pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 722(7). For the reasons that follow, we reverse.*fn1

I

CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY TO LIMIT TORT RECOVERY AGAINST THE COMMONWEALTH

The statute in question, 42 Pa.C.S.A. 8553(b), the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, provides:

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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