PennDOT granted immunity in fatal crash

| 8/30/2002

An appeals court has pardoned the state transportation department, cancelling a $571,250 judgment PennDOT was ordered to pay to crash victims' survivors of a 1994 collision.

An opinion filed Monday in Commonwealth Court reverses the 1999 Cambria County jury verdict, saying PennDOT can claim sovereign immunity - a bar on lawsuits against government - against allegations that poor design turned Route 22 atop Cresson Mountain into a winter hazard.

Late in the afternoon of Feb. 24, 1994, 26 vehicles collided as a winter storm sent a blanket of snow across the mountaintop highway. As vehicles began to pile up, a tractor-trailer rolled into the wreckage, struck a minivan and killed its four occupants.

Jurors delivered a $2.29 million verdict, giving PennDOT 25 percent of the blame while truck owner National Freight Inc. and driver John Jones of Elizabeth, PA, carried 75 percent ($1.71 million). Jurors were unaware that National Freight already paid $3 million to the victims' survivors in an out-of-court settlement.

Under the deal, the victims' survivors and National Freight agreed to share any court judgment against PennDOT, with National Freight taking 80 percent of any amount above $100,000 awarded to the survivors. The victims' survivors would have received $100,000 plus another $94,250, while National Freight would have received $377,000.