Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act Amendments
Over the course of the past few years there seems to have been a new awakening in our country and an awareness of the presence of sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault victims.
Victims, quite rightfully, have been empowered to speak up and speak out against those who have harmed them. This new awakening has caused some major changes in the law, and it is certainly something that we have kept on top of. It is important for us to build awareness in the community of how the law has changed and how these changes affect victims’ rights.
In an effort to increase both criminal liability for sexual crimes and civil remedies available to victims of sexual abuse, Pennsylvania legislature has amended the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (PSTCA).
The PSTCA provides local agencies immunity from liability for any damages on account of an injury to a person or property caused by an act of the local agency of an employee.
On November 26, 2019, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 962, which added “sexual abuse” as new exception to the immunities under the PSTCA.
The amendments to the PSTCA include:
New Immunity Exception
This additional exception removes governmental immunity as a defense to any claim of personal injury caused by a negligent act of an employee resulting in sexual abuse of the claimant.
This means that any claim of sexual abuse, if it occurs in a government setting, can be brought as a negligence-based claim.
No Damages Cap
There is a $500,000 damages cap on all other immunity exceptions, but the amendment to the PSTCA states that this does not apply to the sexual abuse immunity exception.
Thus, local agencies may potentially face unlimited liability for damages involving sexual abuse.
Increase of Statute of Limitations (SOL) Period
The PSTCA has been amended to increase the SOL period for filing a claim of sexual abuse.
With this amendment, if a victim is sexually abused as a minor, the statute of limitations provides no defense for a government entity sued under the sexual abuse exception until the victim has reached the age of 55.
However, the extension of the SOL does not revive claims that have expired prior to the date House Bill 962 was signed (November 26, 2019). Additionally, this amendment does not allow a new cause of action to be raised for claims that have already been settled or taken to judgment.