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$250,000 Damage Award Reversed In Case of Pennsylvania Student Harmed by Table Fall

A Pennsylvania Court of Appeals has reversed a Delaware County Court of Common Pleas trial court order originally awarding a student $250,000 for damages sustained as the result a school’s negligent role in a gymnasium table fall incident several years prior. The Chichester School District has originally lost a trial case filed by the student, Kelly Repko, in which Repko claimed and ultimately was awarded by jury a $250,000 dollars damage award as the result of claims involving the Chichester School District negligently permitting the haphazard placement of a folding table on bleachers, which when falling in this case, struck student Repko in the calf and ankles.

Due to her injuries, Repko, who was represented by Christopher Heavens, esq., sustained several harms from the table fall including stitches causing decreased periods of mobility. Repko and her counsel later filed claims for negligent maintenance of the School’s real property under its control by way of arguing that the Grief approach to dichotomizing real versus personalty property in municipal claims applied in the case at hand. The School District, represented by Allison Peterson, esq., argued in favor of the school’s immunity from liability conferred under the Political Subdivision clauses of the Tort Claims Act.

Ultimately, during the trial phase, the trial court noted unilaterally that counsel for the School had admitted negligence by way of conceding the dangers presented by the table, as prima facie evidenced by the harms caused in fact. Unilaterally as well, the Court elected not to force jurors at trial to consider the matter of immunity conferred about the school district as a government entity under Pennsylvania liability and for government agencies laws.

The School then later filed a motion for post-trial relief with the Pennsylvania Appeals Court considering the case under the lens of the Tort Claims Act vis a vis liability incurred by local government agencies. Specifically, Wells. V. Harrisburg School District in 2005 established the precedent that school districts were in fact government agencies immune from some liability under the Tort Claims Act. In the Repko and Chichester School District  case, the appellate court’s decision weighed on the determination of whether the table causing injuries to Repko was subject to a legal distinction of personalty versus fixtures, whether the table itself was a permanent fixture to the gymnasium, or personalty, which is generally a movable furniture-type property within the real property itself. Moreover, there was a lingering issues as to whether the injuries sustained by Repko were in fact due to negligent care of the real property or negligent maintenance of the personalty. The Appeals Court in Pennsylvania ultimately reversed Court of Common Pleas refusal to dismiss claims during the trial phase under the Pennsylvania Tort Claims Act.

Relying upon the Blocker v. City of Philadelphia decision in interpreting local government and school system immunity under the Tort Claims Act, the Pennsylvania Appeals Court found that the table in question was best defined by law as personalty annexable from the gymnasium itself, or private property-type chattel and not real property. Second, the Appeals Court in Pennsylvania reversed the Court of Common Pleas decision made at the trial level.

References:

http://www.legis.state.pa.us/WU01/LI/LI/CT/HTM/42/00.085..HTM

http://digitalcommons.law.villanova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2674&context=vlr

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