The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently decided to hear an appeal in a case involving a statutory damages cap which can sharply limit claims against government entities in Pennsylvania.
In the case of Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District, a student was catastrophically injured when a school bus driver hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The bus jumped a curb and struck the plaintiff, a student who had been standing on the sidewalk with a group of friends. The student suffered severe pelvic injuries and lost her leg as a result. The case went to trial, and after hearing all the evidence, a jury entered an award in the amount of $14 million to compensate the plaintiff for her injuries.
That verdict was significantly reduced by the trial judge, who reduced the award to $500,000 pursuant to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. Claims against municipalities and other similar entities in Pennsylvania are governed by the Tort Claims Act, which sets a $500,000 cap on damages. This result was upheld by the Commonwealth Court in a 2-1 decision, despite the fact that Pennsbury had an $11 million liability insurance policy.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will examine the constitutional issues involved in such a statutory cap on damages, including whether it violates the right to a jury trial, and whether the different result reached solely because the defendant is a government entity violates equal protection principles. The Supreme Court’s decision in Zauflik will be closely watched due the significant impact these caps have on the parties involved.
In cases involving catastrophic injuries, an injured person may face significant past and future medical bills, a lifetime of pain and disfigurement, and even a loss of future income. These caps on damages can leave an innocent victim with an uncertain future, and allow wrongdoers to escape full responsibility for their actions.
If you have been injured as a result of negligence by a government entity or would like more information on this important case, contact Stark & Stark.