• Damage Cap under Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act Applies to Each Local Agency Defendant, Not in the Aggregate, when there is More than One Local Agency Found Liable
  • July 13, 2015 | Author: Paul G. Lees
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Allentown Office
  • Glencannon Homes Association, Inc, Appellee v. North Strabane Township and Canon-McMillan School District, Appellants, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, 2015 Pa. Commw. Lexis 175, April 22, 2015, Decided

    The plaintiff homeowner association, owner of a pond created by an earthen embankment dam, brought claims of negligence and violations of the Storm Water Management Act (SWMA), 32 P.S. §§680.1-680.17 against the defendant township and school district. The school district built a sports complex on township land located adjacent to the pond and which the plaintiff alleged was improperly constructed and maintained so as to deposit significant amounts of sediment into the pond whenever it rained, causing damages. Following a jury trial in favor of the plaintiff on both claims, the association was awarded $1,629,000. The jury apportioned liability of 60% to the township and 40% to the school district. Following the verdict, the award was molded pursuant to § 8553 of the PSTCA to $500,000 against each of the defendants.

    On cross appeals by both parties, the Commonwealth Court upheld the damages cap as constitutional and applicable to both common law negligence claims and statutory claims brought under the SWMA. On the issue of the defendants’ appeal, the court rejected the argument that the plaintiff association’s damage award was capped at $500,000 in the aggregate against the defendants.

    In what it characterized as an issue of first impression, the court analyzed § 8553 and determined that the legislature placed local agencies on the same footing as other tortfeasors, with the exception that a municipal entity is subject to a statutory cap. In rejecting the school district’s and the township’s argument that the damages cap applied in the aggregate, the court determined that the separate claims—negligence and violation of the SWMA—against two separate local agencies—the township and the school district—were not predicated on a master-servant or borrowed-servant relationship, nor are such liabilities imposed under a theory of vicarious liability. The jury determined that each defendant was found separately negligent and had separately violated the SWMA through their own distinct actions, and the jury apportioned liability and awarded damages against each. The court concluded that applying the damage cap in the aggregate would impose liability in amounts much lower than the $500,000 cap.