Governmental immunity, vehicle liability exception, definition of “operation”

Balentine v. Chester Water Authority, 140 A. 3d 69 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2016), allocatur granted, 119 MAP 2016


Whether the involuntary movement of a stopped vehicle (where stopped vehicle owned by local government authority was struck by another vehicle and propelled into roadside worker, causing worker’s death) constitutes an act as to which sovereign immunity has been waived under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act’s exception to sovereign immunity for “operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency.”


Chester Water Authority (CWA) employee parked vehicle in roadway with engine running while inspecting water system renovations at roadside; another vehicle struck the parked CWA vehicle from behind, pushing parked CWA vehicle into area where decedent contractor was working on water system renovations, pinning and killing decedent.  Trial court granted CWA’s motion for summary judgment on immunity grounds, finding that the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act’s vehicle liability exception to sovereign immunity, which applies to “operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency,” does not extend to a stopped vehicle because a stopped vehicle is not “in operation.” A three judge panel of the Commonwealth Court (Covey, J.) affirmed, holding that involuntary movement of a vehicle does not constitute “operation” for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity; Friedman, J. dissented on this issue.

For more information, contact Kevin McKeon or Dennis Whitaker