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Hall v. Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 17, 2014

Richard C. Hall, Richard B. Hall and Anita Hall, Appellants
v.
Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority, a municipal authority, and Department of Transportation of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Argued: November 12, 2013.

Appealed fro No. 1979 of 2009 GD. Common Pleas Court of the County of Fayette. Judge Leskinen, J.

Robert S. Wertkin, Pittsburgh, for appellants.

Kemal A. Mericli, Senior Deputy Attorney General, Pittsburgh, for appellee Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

BEFORE: HONORABLE DAN PELLEGRINI, President Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT.

OPINION

Page 999

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge.

Richard C. Hall (Hall) and his parents appeal an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County (trial court) granting summary judgment to the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) in the Halls' action for damages for physical injuries Hall sustained in an automobile accident. Finding no error in the trial court's conclusion that PennDOT was immune from suit, we affirm.

On March 31, 2009, at approximately 7:00 a.m., Hall, then 17 years of age, was driving his truck eastbound on New Salem Road, a state highway in Fayette County. Hall encountered an isolated patch of ice on the roadway, causing him to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a tree. Hall sustained serious physical injuries in the accident. The source of the water that flowed onto the roadway and then froze was a broken water line owned by Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority (Water Authority).

The Halls filed suit against PennDOT and the Water Authority. In their complaint, the Halls asserted that the Water Authority was negligent because it knew or should have known its water main was hazardous and unsafe by reason of improper construction and maintenance. Complaint ¶ 8. The complaint also asserted that PennDOT had been negligent in its construction and maintenance of the drainage system at the point of the roadway where the accident occurred. Accordingly, the inadequate drainage allowed water and ice to accumulate on the road surface. Complaint ¶ 17.

After discovery, PennDOT and the Water Authority filed motions for summary judgment. The trial court denied the Water Authority's motion and granted PennDOT's motion.[1] In granting PennDOT's motion for summary judgment, the trial court held that the waiver of sovereign immunity for dangerous conditions of state highways did not apply because the water came from an artificial source and did not originate from PennDOT's property. Accordingly, sovereign immunity had not been waived. The Halls appealed.[2]

Page 1000

On appeal, the Halls argue that the trial court erred because there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a dangerous condition existed on the roadway. The Halls contend that PennDOT's inadequate drainage system caused water and ice to accumulate on the roadway, which in turn caused the accident; therefore, the real estate exception to PennDOT's sovereign immunity should apply in the present case. PennDOT responds that because the allegedly dangerous condition, i.e ., the icy patch, was caused by a condition outside its realty, the real estate exception does not apply.

Preliminarily, we note that a grant of summary judgment is only appropriate where the record clearly shows that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Farabaugh v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 590 Pa. 46, 52 n. 3, 911 A.2d 1264, 1267 n.3 (2006). When reviewing a motion for ...


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