The Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act: Broad Immunities and Exceptions
The Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act (“PTCA”) abrogates sovereign immunity in enumerated instances of negligence “where the damages would be recoverable under the common law or a statute creating a cause of action if the injury were caused by a person not having available the defense of sovereign immunity.” 1
Unfortunately, this waiver does not include intentional torts. 2
Uniquely, employees are also protected by sovereign immunity so that Commonwealth employees are immunized from liability for their own intentional torts. 3
Immunity defenses can be asserted in limited negligence claims brought against Commonwealth employees. 4
The Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (“PSTCA”) governs municipal liability in Pennsylvania. It is structured similarly to the PTCA in that it waives government immunity in enumerated instances of negligence, making the government entity liable to the same extent a private person would be in those situations. 5
Municipal employees are liable in all the same enumerated instances of negligence. 6
They can assert immunity defenses to these claims, such as discretionary-function immunity and good-faith immunity. 7
Unlike Commonwealth employees, municipal employees may be personally liable for intentional torts that constitute “crime, actual fraud, actual malice or willful misconduct,” and immunity defenses are not available in these cases. 8
Jones v. City of Philadelphia: Hope for the Future?
The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania recognized in Jones v. City of Philadelphia that it has the power to create an implied constitutional right of action for damages in certain situations, but it has declined to do so when there exists a federal claim under Bivens or 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that could remedy the state constitutional violation. 9
Jones provides hope for plaintiffs in the future because not only did the Court recognize that it has the power to create constitutional tort claims; it hinted that in some circumstances the Pennsylvania Constitution may mandate a damages remedy. 10
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