the bus driver transported plaintiff to a police station, where police officers took plaintiff off the bus against his will.
PATCO and the bus driver claim immunity under 42 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 8541 & 8550. We begin by noting that PATCO is at most liable for negligent, and not wilful, acts of misconduct on the part of Bus Driver Roe. 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(a)(2). Therefore, summary judgment is appropriate on behalf of PATCO as to plaintiff's allegations of false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence.
As for plaintiff's allegation of negligence against PATCO, plaintiff argues that the "vehicle liability" exception, contained in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(b)(1), removes the shield of sovereign immunity from PATCO in this case. The exception provides that the defense of sovereign immunity does not apply in cases arising out of "the operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency." Id.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has decreed that the sovereign immunity exceptions contained in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542 must be construed narrowly. Mascaro v. Youth Study Center, Pa. , 523 A.2d 1118, 1123 (1987). In Mascaro, the Court considered the real estate exception, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(b)(3), and held that the liability imposed on local agencies by the exception is equivalent to the liability of a private landowner.
The courts which have considered the vehicle exception reach somewhat conflicting results, with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court construing the statute more narrowly than the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In City of Philadelphia v. Love, 98 Pa. Cmwlth. 138, 509 A.2d 1388 (1986), appeal granted, 523 A.2d 1132 (1987), the Commonwealth Court held that the vehicle exception did not apply to impose liability for the negligence of a city van driver who assisted a senior citizen in alighting from the van. The passenger fell and was injured. Id. at 1389. The court held that "the acts of entering into or getting out of a motor vehicle, for purposes of the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, do not constitute the operation of that vehicle." Id. at 1390.
In Toombs v. Manning, 640 F. Supp. 938 (E.D. Pa. 1986), the district court held that the motor vehicle exception did not apply to immunize a local agency against liability for the injuries of a man who fell in the path of an oncoming subway train after he was robbed at knifepoint while waiting for the train. The court based its decision on its observation that "the traditional duty of care owed by a common carrier to its passengers extended to ingress to and egress from the actual bus, train, trolley or other vehicle. [citations omitted]" Id. at 945.
Thus, although there is underlying agreement in the Love and Toombs opinions that the "vehicle exception" limits liability to that available at common law, there is disagreement as to whether the exception encompasses the common law applicable to common carriers. While the Love decision holds that "vehicle operation" contemplates something less than common carrier operation per se, Toombs holds that the vehicle exception includes traditional principles of liability for common carriers. The legislative history of the statute offers little guidance as to whether the legislature intended that the vehicle exception impose liability on municipal carriers to the same extent that the common law imposes liability on common carriers. See 1978 Legislative Journal -- Senate, 1130, 1131 (Nov. 14, 1978) (remarks of Sen. Lewis).
After careful consideration, our interpretation of the vehicle exception is that it does not impose liability to the extent of the common law liability of common carriers. Since the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that the sovereign immunity exceptions should be narrowly construed, Mascaro, 523 A.2d at 1123, the language of the statute itself provides the basis for our conclusion. The statutory exception removes the sovereign immunity defense for "vehicle operation" as opposed to "common carrier operation." These are separate and distinct activities. For example, while the law applicable to vehicle operation is codified at 75 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 101-8122, and known as the "Vehicle Code," common carriers are separately regulated at 66 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 512, 2301-305. It is a settled principle of the common law that common carriers are held to a higher standard of care than ordinary operators of vehicles. See, e.g., Scott v. Eastern Air Lines, Inc., 399 F.2d 14, cert. denied, 89 S. Ct. 446, 393 U.S. 979, 21 L. Ed. 2d 439 (1968); Pedretti v. Pittsburgh Railways Company, 417 Pa. 581, 209 A.2d 289 (1965).
It is not surprising that the legislature retained the sovereign immunity shield for common carrier operation. Common carrier liability was not the only form of liability excluded from the list of exceptions. Other significant potential sources of liability were also excluded, such as:
the improper assessment of taxes, negligence in the provision of police, fire, and other services, adverse possession against political subdivisions, failure to properly supervise employees, the seizure and detention of property, false imprisonment, improper licensing, negligent delay in granting permits, failure to inspect, improper inspection, and the failure to enforce local ordinances.