February 5, 2020
On October 18, 2018 the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled in our favor in the case of Nicolaou v. Martin, et. al. In that case, the Court agreed with our position that Ms. Nicolau should have her day in court and reversed the rulings of two other courts which dismissed her case. Recently the Court has agreed to consider another client’s issue involving Sovereign Immunity in the case of Wise v. Huntingdon Cty. Housing Development Corp. As less than 5% of all cases submitted to the Supreme Court are accepted, the Supreme Court’s allowance of the appeal already signifies the importance of the legal issues involved, and the case could very well re-write decades of law on immunity provided to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in premises liability cases.
Sharon Wise was injured when walking on an outdoor path within a housing development owned and controlled by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A lamppost lighted the pathway, but for an extended period it was known that the light was totally blocked by a large tree. The path, lamppost and tree were all owned by the Commonwealth. The trial court dismissed the case stating that the Commonwealth – even if negligent – had immunity under a statute known as the Sovereign Immunity Act. The essence of Ms. Wise’s appeal is that the Sovereign Immunity Act has been repeatedly misinterpreted in protecting the Statenot originally envisioned when first passed in 1980.
The Sovereign Immunity Act does make the Commonwealth immune from civil claims,while at the same time making certain exceptions. One such exception is the care and control of real property — the defect or negligence at issue must be “of the property”. Over the past decades numerous cases have addressed what “of the property” truly means and, as a result, court interpretation of the statute has become confusing and problematic. Specifically as to Ms. Wise, common sense would tell you that a fixture such as a lamppost and a tree are “of the property”, however, the appellate court astonishingly found that Ms. Wise was not injured due to defective lighting – but rather the nighttime darkness caused by the earth’s natural rotation around the sun.
HRMM&L Partner Nate Murawksy has successfully persuaded the Supreme Court not only to hear our client’s case, but to order a complete review of the entirety of cases that have interpreted the real property exception in Pennsylvania.
In Nicolaou v. Martin, Mr. Murawsky was also successful in having the Supreme Courtunanimously and dramatically alter the law on the statute of limitations in cases where learning of a defendant’s negligent conduct was not obvious or apparent.
At HRMM&L, our track record of battling for our clients is not found on a billboard or a video sound byte. Our record of combatting injustice is found with our jury verdicts, the high respect given by insurance companies and defense counsel, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.