Bucks County case will challenge cap on damage awards against Pa. governments

    Pennsylvania law limits how much the victim of a 2007 runaway school bus accident in Bucks County can receive in a civil case against the Pennsbury School District.  The 21-year old, whose leg had to be amputated, won a $14 million ruling against the district last week.  The ongoing legal battle could become a test case against the law capping damage awards.In Pennsylvania, plaintiffs in civil cases against local governments, including school districts, cannot be granted more than $500,000.  That figure includes all damages not just “so called” pain and suffering.Lawyer Tom Kline believes the cap is unfair and plans to challenge it.”There is a travesty created when a young innocent girl on a schoolyard is literally run over not once but twice by both axles of a school bus and is limited to $500,000 to be shared with her and seven other claimants,” said Kline.  “I believe that the Appeals Courts eventually will see it our way.”Villanova University Law School Professor Ellen Wertheimer also opposes the cap.”If they’re injured in a major way their damages are certainly going to be above $500,000 but they’re the ones who are going to be affected by the cap,” said Wertheimer.  “They will get less of their injury compensated than somebody who has a minor injury and in my view that is really unfair.”Philadelphia attorney Rob Sachs said the cap is rooted in distant history.”It’s based on the old concept of sovereign immunity–that part of our law that was really brought over from England–where you couldn’t sue the King,” said Sachs.Sachs said while lawmakers use protecting taxpayers to sell caps to the public, “in this case the School District had purchased an insurance policy so the people of Pennsylvania aren’t being protected by this cap, it is the insurance company that is the beneficiary.”The woman’s lawyer said he’s willing to negotiate with the school district about settling out of court for less than $14 million.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.