March 2022 —
The MLO Minute: By Dennis McAndrews, Esq. and Heather Hulse, J.D., M.S., M.A. —
Almost anyone who has participated in an athletic event at a school or on other public property has been required to sign a “liability waiver” for any injuries which might occur during the event. These waivers are frequently used by schools or other public agencies even though these agencies possess broad “sovereign immunity” excusing them from liability for negligence in most circumstances. Nonetheless, public agencies and schools often demand waivers for participating in events on public/school property because sovereign immunity does not apply, and liability still exists, for negligent conditions on much public property, including sidewalks, streets, and in buildings. Public agencies have long viewed these “liability waivers” signed by participants in activities as ample protection against lawsuits for injuries suffered on negligently maintained public property.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently held that such liability waivers for public agencies can violate public policy, and may not be enforceable. In the recent case of Degliomini v. City of Philadelphia, a bicycle rider signed such a liability waiver prior to a charity bike ride through the City during which he rode into an unmarked and unbarricaded sinkhole, which caused severe injuries. After a jury awarded the plaintiff $3 million in damages, an appellate court initially reversed, holding that the liability waiver signed by the plaintiff precluded a lawsuit against the City even though it occurred on a city street which normally would permit recovery in a lawsuit. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed and held that the proper care of public property is a mandatory duty of public agencies and that an exculpatory contract which purports to immunize a public agency from its essential duty of public service is against public policy and is invalid as a matter of law. As a result, the $3 million verdict for the plaintiff was reinstated.
McAndrews, Mehalick, Connolly, Hulse, and Ryan, P.C. has recovered millions of dollars from public agencies due to the negligent or reckless conduct of school districts or other agencies in cases involving significant personal injuries. If you would like us to review such a matter, please call Heather Hulse at 570-969-1817 or Dennis McAndrews at 610-648-9300. We will be pleased to review your matter and discuss it with you.