In this case the Commonwealth Court was asked to weigh in on the statutory exceptions to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (Act). The court determined that where the conduct of a municipality’s employees is the underlying cause of a dangerous condition, the municipality is immune from liability under the Act.
The City began excavating a site to uncover a sewer line that needed repair. While excavating, the City’s workers encountered an electrical duct bank owned by Metropolitan Edison (Met-Ed) that was in poor condition. The City notified Met-Ed, and Met-Ed promptly repaired the duct bank. Reading resumed excavations, but soon noticed that the duct bank was falling away from the wall. Met-Ed returned to the site and repaired the duct bank but warned the City that its excavation and repair needed to be completed as soon as possible so the hole could be backfilled. The City continued its excavation and 5 days later the duct bank fully collapsed, requiring Met-Ed to remove and replace it.
Met-Ed brought suit against the City in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County alleging the City’s negligence had caused the collapse. The City asserted it was immune from liability under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (Act). The trial court ruled the City was not immune because the City’s negligent conduct had created a dangerous condition of the property, an exception to immunity under the Act. It found the City’s actions were negligent and awarded Met-Ed $53,000 in damages. The City appealed.
On appeal, the Commonwealth Court reversed, holding that the City was immune from liability under the Act. The court reasoned that the dangerous condition was not the unstable condition of the dirt and soil located underneath the duct bank—as the trial court had concluded—but was derived from the conduct of the City’s employees during the excavation. The City’s employees had removed the soil beneath the duct bank, had not used supports or shoring to stabilize the duct bank, and had not promptly backfilled the excavated hole. Therefore no exception to the Act applied and the City was immune from liability.