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Ebersole v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

March 12, 2015

Jay Ebersole, Administrator of the Estate of Stephanie Jo Ebersole, Deceased
v.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Appellant

Argued February 9, 2015.

Appealed from No. April Term, 2013, No. 0578. Common Pleas Court of the County of Philadelphia. Bernstein, J.

Carol Ann VanderWoude, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Emily Beth Marks, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, HONORABLE ROCHELLE S. FRIEDMAN, Senior Judge. OPINION BY JUDGE LEAVITT. CONCURRING OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE FRIEDMAN.

OPINION

Page 287

MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge

This Court has granted Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) permission to appeal an interlocutory order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court). The trial court's order denied, in part, SEPTA's motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, thereby allowing the parents of Stephanie Jo Ebersole (Decedent) to pursue their claim for non-pecuniary losses resulting from her death. SEPTA argues that the Sovereign Immunity Act bars a parent from recovering non-pecuniary damages resulting from a child's death and, thus, the trial court erred. We agree and reverse the trial court's order on this point.

Jay Ebersole, Administrator of the estate of Decedent, has commenced a wrongful death and survival action against SEPTA. The amended complaint alleges that Decedent, an adult, fell from the platform to the train tracks at SEPTA's Lombard-South station in Philadelphia. She was electrocuted and remained on the tracks for several hours until she was struck by a train, which caused her death.

The amended complaint seeks damages under Section 8301 of the Judicial Code, commonly known as the Wrongful Death Act. It provides in full:

(a) General rule.--An action may be brought, under procedures prescribed by general rules, to recover damages for the death of an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another if no recovery for the same damages claimed in the wrongful death action was obtained by the injured individual during his lifetime and any prior actions for the same injuries are consolidated with the wrongful death claim so as to avoid a duplicate recovery.
(b) Beneficiaries.--Except as provided in subsection (d), the right of action created by this section shall exist only for the benefit of the spouse, children or parents of the deceased, whether or not citizens or residents of this Commonwealth or elsewhere. The damages recovered shall be distributed to the beneficiaries in the proportion they would take the personal estate of the decedent in the case of intestacy and without liability to creditors of the deceased person under the statutes of this Commonwealth.
(c) Special damages.--In an action brought under subsection (a), the plaintiff shall be entitled to recover, in addition to other damages, damages for reasonable hospital, nursing, medical,

Page 288

funeral expenses and expenses of administration necessitated by reason of injuries causing death.
(d) Action by personal representative.--If no person is eligible to recover damages under subsection (b), the personal representative of the deceased may bring an action to recover damages for reasonable hospital, nursing, medical, funeral expenses and expenses of administration necessitated by reason of injuries causing death.

42 Pa. C.S. § 8301(a)-(d) (emphasis added). The amended complaint seeks wrongful death damages on behalf of Decedent's father, i.e., Administrator, her mother, Donna Ebersole, and her sister, Stacey Morahan. The amended complaint seeks damages for the

pecuniary value of support, services, lost wages and comfort that [Decedent] would have provided had she lived as well as for the reimbursement of medical expenses, funeral expenses and ...

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