• Pennsylvania's Six-Month Notice Rule For Suit Against the State
  • December 18, 2013 | Author: James C. Warmbrodt
  • Law Firm: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co., L.P.A. - Pittsburgh Office
  • Public utilities face numerous challenges in recovering property damage claims against state and local government agencies in Pennsylvania above and beyond the normal burdens of establishing causation, negligence and damages. Claims must fall within a statutorily delineated exception to sovereign or governmental immunity. In addition, Pennsylvania imposes a six-month notice requirement applicable to claims against government units that, if overlooked, can prevent the recovery of otherwise collectible claims.

    Specifically, Pennsylvania's statute requires that within six months from the date that any injury was sustained or any cause of action accrued, any person who is about to commence a lawsuit against a government unit1 for damages on account of any injury to his person or property must file a signed written statement of the claim in the office of the government unit. Additionally, if the action is against a Commonwealth agency for damages, the statement of claim must also be filed with Pennsylvania's Attorney General.2 The statement must contain the following information:

    • (i) The name and residence address of the person to whom the cause of action has accrued
    • (ii) The name and residence address of the person injured
    • (iii) The date and hour of the accident
    • (iv) The approximate location where the accident occurred
    • (v) The name and residence or office address of any attending physician3

    Failure to comply with the notice requirement comes with harsh consequences. If the statement is not provided, any lawsuit commenced against the government unit more than six months after the date of injury to person or property shall be dismissed and the person to whom any such cause of action accrued for any injury to person or property shall be forever barred.4

    The statute provides limited exceptions for strict adherence to the six-month time limit for providing the required notice. Failure to comply may be excused by a court upon a showing of reasonable excuse for failure to file the statement.5 In the case of an action filed against a government unit other than the Commonwealth government:

    • (i) The time for giving such written notice does not include the time during which an individual injured is unable, due to incapacitation or disability from the injury, to give notice, not exceeding 90 days of incapacity
    • (ii) If the injuries to an individual result in death, the time for giving notice shall commence with such death
    • (iii) Failure to comply with this subsection shall not be a bar if the government unit had actual or constructive notice of the incident or condition giving rise to the claim of a person.6

    Strict adherence to the six-month notice requirement is necessary whether or not the utility is considering filing suit to recover its claim. Should the six-month period pass without such notice being given, an incentive for the government unit to negotiate a resolution of the claim is removed.

    Utilities should incorporate providing the six-month notice into the early stages of their investigation and review process for claims where a Pennsylvania government unit is a responsible party. The written claim should be a signed letter that is sent by certified or registered mail to provide proof of delivery. The letter should specify that its purpose is to comply with Section 5522, and should include at minimum the details of the claim required by the statute, as set forth above. Attorneys in WWR's utility claims practice group are available to answer further questions concerning these and other statutory requirements.

    1"Government unit." --The General Assembly and its officers and agencies, any government agency or any court or other officer or agency of the unified judicial system.
    "Government agency." --Any Commonwealth agency or any political subdivision or municipal or other local authority, or any officer or agency of any such political subdivision or local authority.
    2 42 Pa.C.S. § 5522(a)(1).
    3 42 Pa.C.S. § 5522(a)(1)(i)-(v).
    4 42 Pa.C.S. § 5522(a)(2).
    5 Id.
    6 42 Pa.C.S. § 5522(a)(3)(i)-(iii).