HARRISBURG – Reaching agreement with a prior trial court ruling, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania concurred in granting summary judgment to the West Chester Area School District in the case of a plaintiff who suffered a broken leg on district property.
On Dec. 27, Commonwealth Court Judge J. Wesley Oler Jr. authored the decision, which affirmed that of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
Jewel Lee Camacho appealed from the March 1, 2017 order of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, which granted the West Chester Area School District’s motion for summary judgment pursuant to what is commonly known as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.
On Jan. 18, 2014, Camacho was leaving her granddaughter’s cheerleading competition when she tripped and fell over a concrete parking barrier or parking spot bumper that was located horizontally across a walkway on the campus of West Chester East High School in West Chester.
As a result, Camacho is alleged to have sustained significant and permanent injuries to her leg, including a fractured tibia.
“The campus parking barriers are not attached to the surface. They are freely movable and removable. The barriers were designed to be removable so as not to damage plows that are used to clear the drive areas. The students on campus move the parking barriers as pranks. Two people can easily move one parking barrier. After the accident, in the spring of 2014, the School District removed the parking barriers from the Campus parking lot,” Oler said.
On June 10, 2015, Camacho initially filed a civil action in the trial court. On Nov. 22, 2016, the School District filed a motion for summary judgment. On Dec. 28, 2016, Camacho filed a response in opposition to the School District’s motion. On Jan. 18, 2017, the School District filed a reply to Camacho’s response. On March 2, 2017, the trial court entered an order dated March 1, 2017, which granted the School District’s motion for summary judgment.
Camacho then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Camacho first argued the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the School District, when it determined that the parking barrier in question was not real property under Section 8542(b)(3) of the Act, which provides for “a real property exception to governmental immunity for injuries arising out of the care, custody or control of real property in the possession of the local agency.”
“The real property exception applies when the actions of a ‘local agency or its employees make the property unsafe for the activities for which it is regularly used, for which it is intended to be used or for which it may reasonably be foreseen to be used.’ This Court must look at the facts of the present case and, inter alia, compare them to the facts of both Grieff v. Reisinger and Blocker v. City of Philadelphia, to determine which of their approaches should be applied,” Oler said.
In Grieff, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania examined whether the injury was caused by “the care, custody, or control of the real property itself.” The Supreme Court determined that injuries caused by a fire chief’s negligence in removing paint by spreading paint thinner across the floor, which caught fire and injured a bystander, was within the real property exception to immunity as “care” of the property.
In Blocker, the Supreme Court determined a bleacher that the plaintiff was sitting on when it collapsed was not a permanent fixture of the real estate but was personalty and therefore, the immunity exception for real property in Section 8542(b)(3) of the Act did not apply.
“Here, the facts of the case are more analogous to those of Blocker. The injury did not involve maintenance of real property but an item placed on the real property. Neither party suggests that the parking barrier was affixed to the realty. It remained freely moveable and removable. Thus, because the parking barrier was not affixed to the property, it remained personalty and the trial court did not err in determining that the real property exception to governmental immunity in Section 8542(b)(3) of the Act did not apply,” Oler stated.
Camacho further contended the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the School District when it determined that the parking barrier at issue was not a traffic sign or traffic control device under Section 8542(b)(4) of the Act.
Oler said, “Section 8542(b)(4) of the Act provides an exception to governmental immunity for: [a] dangerous condition of trees, traffic signs, lights or other traffic controls, street lights or street lighting systems under the care, custody or control of the local agency, except that the claimant to recover must establish that the dangerous condition created a reasonably foreseeable risk of the kind of injury which was incurred, and that the local agency had actual notice or could reasonably be charged with notice under the circumstances of the dangerous condition at a sufficient time prior to the event to have taken measures to protect against the dangerous condition.”
Oler added that in Glenn v. Horan, the Commonwealth Court determined that a crosswalk was a traffic control device because the Vehicle Code defines “official traffic control devices’ as ‘…markings…for the purpose of regulating, warning or guiding traffic.”
“This Court concluded that a crosswalk’s painted lines warn motorists that pedestrians may be crossing and, thus, a crosswalk constitutes a traffic control within the meaning of Section 8542(b)(4) of the Act,” Oler said.
Significantly, Oler added the Commonwealth Court has further determined in Slough v. City of Philadelphia that “a defective highway median, which a pedestrian upon alighting from a bus tripped on, was not a traffic control device pursuant to Section 8542(b)(4) of the Act” and that “a median or island is a ‘traffic control’ in only the broadest sense of the term, acting merely as a means of keeping one lane of travel from running into another.”
“In the present case, the concrete parking barrier is not situated on a public roadway. Further, the concrete barrier, like the concrete median in Slough, is a traffic control only in the broadest sense of the term, as its function is to delineate the end of a parking space in a parking lot. The barrier is not a sign, signal, marking, or device that was erected to regulate, warn, or guide traffic. It is merely placed as a means of keeping one vehicle from protruding too far into another area or parking space. The trial court did not err in determining that the parking barrier was not a traffic sign or a traffic control device under Section 8542(b)(4) of the Act,” Oler stated.
Thus, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment to the School District.
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 390 C.D. 2017
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org