Pittsburgh, Aug. 1, 2013 — Burns White Members Jennifer McPeak and Ira Podheiser, and Associate Jeffrey Bailey, recently obtained a favorable result for a skilled nursing facility client owned by Beaver County in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversing an earlier order denying a motion to have claims against it dismissed on the grounds of governmental immunity.
The plaintiff in this matter was the administrator of his late father’s estate, who had been a resident at the client’s facility and sued both Beaver County and another company which provided management services to the county-owned facility. Burns White successfully had the plaintiffs’ claims against it dismissed on the grounds it was immune from suit pursuant to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. At the same time, the management company asserted cross-claims for indemnification against Beaver County based on the management agreement it had with the County. Again citing to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, the County sought to dismiss the cross-claim, however, the trial court denied this request.
Because the trial court’s order was from a non-final (interlocutory) order, the County could not immediately appeal the denial of the management company’s cross-claim to the Commonwealth Court as of right. As a result, Burns White successfully sought permission from the Commonwealth Court to immediately hear this appeal, as it involved a controlling question of law on which there were substantial grounds for difference of opinion. Following briefing and argument, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court unanimously reversed the trial court and ordered that the management company’s cross-claim be dismissed pursuant to the Tort Claims Act. The panel held that, despite plaintiff’s characterization of its claim as one for contractual indemnification, the Act does not permit a county to contractually waive immunity for actions essentially sounding in negligence.
Note: The results obtained in a particular case are, of course, always heavily dependent on the facts and the law specific to that case.