Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson declined the City of Philadelphia's request for a new trial in the case of Degliomini v. Philadelphia Phillies; however, the $3.2 million verdict previously awarded in trial was reduced to the $500,000 statutory limit for claims against governmental entities. Plaintiff Anthony Degliomini was riding a bicycle in a charity event on a city street when he struck a large sinkhole in the road that resulted in severe injuries. The city claimed that they should be shielded from liability because the plaintiff had signed a waiver of liability release prior to the event. Thus far city officials have declined commenting on the latest ruling.
Degliomini, 53, was participating in a Philadelphia Phillies 20-mile ride through a South Philadelphia neighborhood when he crashed. He incurred facial cuts and spinal injuries and was promptly taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for treatment. He has since completed a rehabilitation program but has difficulty walking and is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. J. Lucas Elrath, an expert who testified for the plaintiff, stated the defendants “failed in almost every way imaginable in terms of event safety”.
Liability Waiver Was Signed
The plaintiffs acknowledged that Degliomini had signed a waiver of liability before the bike ride, which the defense sought to use as grounds for a dismissal of the case. Counsel for the plaintiff claimed that the waiver was not applicable because the city's Home Rule Charter has statutory provisions that require the city to maintain safe road conditions. The 16-square-foot sinkhole was shown to have existed for at least a prior nine-month period, which reinforced the plaintiff's assertions of negligence.
Counsel for the plaintiff stated the defendants were attempting to avoid responsibility associated with their “duty to care”. It was explained that the city was aware of the existence of the dangerous road condition yet failed to make the needed repairs in any reasonable amount of time. Satellite images of the road that were taken four months earlier were presented. The jury deliberated for roughly two hours before awarding approximately $3.19 million in damages. The allocation of liability was 90% to the City of Philadelphia and 10% to the organization that hosted the event.
Home Rule Charters in Pennsylvania
The state allows for counties and municipalities to establish their own Home Rule Charter. This is essentially a local constitution that outlines the way that the government is organized. The charter may not contain provisions that explicitly run contrary to state law but allow local entities to craft ordinances that are suitable for their own jurisdiction.
State Statutes Regarding Road Conditions
- Localities are typically responsible for the conditions of roads, sidewalks, traffic indicators, etc.
- Government entities are usually protected from civil suits according to the doctrine of sovereign immunity
- The following are exceptions where governmental immunity does not apply:
- Claims resulting from damages caused by roads, sidewalks, and other real estate property
- This exception may apply to government-owned property that is currently being leased
- Potholes in roads or other potentially dangerous conditions; however, the injured party must show the governmental entity had been formally notified of the harmful condition and was given “sufficient” time to correct the problem
- If deemed liable in a civil action a maximum of $500,000 in damages may be recovered