Mayer v. Verizon-Pennsylvania, PICS Case No. 10-1270 (Pa. Ct.Com.Pl. Jan.22, 2010) (Lash, J.)

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is immune from suit for claims that its plan for the placement of highway utility poles were deficient under the Sovereign Immunity Act.

The plaintiff's decedent lost control of her motor vehicle on a snow-covered road and struck a wooden utility pole. The plaintiff sued Verizon-Pennsylvania alleging that the utility pole was negligently placed and managed. Verizon joined Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), alleging that PennDOT analyzed utility pole placement and advised utilities on whether the poles were placed in acceptable locations. Utilities were required to obtain PennDOT approval for pole placement. Thus, Verizon claimed any negligence must be attributed to PennDOT. The court held that PennDOT is immune from suit for claims that its plan for highway utility pole placement was deficient under the Sovereign Immunity Act and does not fall into the "highway exception." This exception only applies to the breach of a duty to properly design, construct and maintain the paved portions of highways and the shoulder, but does not include the remainder of the right-of-way PennDOT controls. That excludes claims based on theories that PennDOT had duties relating to maintaining "clear zones" of safety for drivers on that right-of-way. Accordingly, the court granted summary judgment to PennDOT.

Case Law Alert - 2nd Qtr 2010