543 A.2d 531 (Pa. 1988), Love v. City of Philadelphia

Citation:543 A.2d 531, 518 Pa. 370
Opinion Judge:Author: Mcdermott
Party Name:Catherine LOVE, Appellant, v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, Appellee.
Case Date:June 01, 1988
Court:Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Page 531

543 A.2d 531 (Pa. 1988)

518 Pa. 370

Catherine LOVE, Appellant,



Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

June 1, 1988

Argued Dec. 7, 1987.

[518 Pa. 371] John Rogers Carroll, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Barbara Axelrod, Philadelphia, for appellee.



McDERMOTT, Justice.

Catherine Love appeals from an order of the Commonwealth Court reversing an order of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas which entered judgment for appellant against the City of Philadelphia, 98 Pa.Cmwlth. 138, 509 [518 Pa. 372] A.2d 1388. The facts as found by the trial court are as follows. 1

In approximately August of 1979, Catherine Love, then age 73, began attending the Mann Adult Center which was administered by the City of Philadelphia, Department of Public Health. Mrs. Love was transported to and from the Mann Center in a city owned van driven by Mr. Robert Kitchen. Mrs. Love was blind in one eye and had impaired vision in the other, and therefore required assistance boarding and alighting from the van. Mr. Kitchen usually parked the van at the curb in front of Mrs. Love's home. He would place a portable step at the doors to the van and would assist Mrs. Love in and out of the van.

On the afternoon of February 15, 1980, Mr. Kitchen transported Mrs. Love, the last occupant of the van that day, from the Mann Center to her home. Mrs. Love fell while alighting from the van, landing in the street with her feet approximately three feet from the curb line and her back approximately two feet from the portable step which had been placed next to the van.

Mr. Kitchen became aware that Mrs. Love had fallen and summoned the help of Mrs. Love's daughter-in-law and granddaughter. The Philadelphia Police were called and Mrs. Love was transported to

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Episcopal Hospital for treatment of her injuries. Mrs. Love suffered multiple injuries and was subsequently placed in a nursing home.

Catherine Love filed an action against the City of Philadelphia alleging that the city's negligence caused her injuries. The case was heard non-jury. At the conclusion of the trial the judge entered a verdict for Catherine Love against the city in the amount of $375,000.00. The court held that Mrs. Love's injuries were caused by the negligence of an employee of the City of Philadelphia who was [518 Pa. 373] acting within the scope of his employment, and that Mrs. Love's cause of action came within the "motor vehicle" exception to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. 2

The city appealed to the Commonwealth Court which reversed the trial court's verdict, holding that the facts of this case did not fall under the "motor vehicle" exception. Hence, the city was held to be immune from suit. 3

Catherine Love petitioned this court for allowance of appeal, and we granted allocatur. Her appeal presents one issue: whether the act of entering into or alighting from a motor vehicle constitutes operation of that vehicle under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8542(b)(1).

Local agencies are immune from tort liability except for certain specific exceptions enumerated in the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act. 4 One of those exceptions applies to vehicle liability, and it provides in relevant part that liability may result from "[t]he operation of any motor vehicle in the possession or control of the local agency ..." 5

The statute does not define the word "operation", nor is it defined in the general definition section of the consolidated statutes. 6 It is therefore our responsibility to derive the intent of the General Assembly in...

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