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Ayala v. Philadelphia Board of Public Education

    Brief Fact Summary. The Appellants, William Ayala and William Ayala Jr. (William Jr.) (Appellants), brought suit to recover damages after William Jr.’s arm was injured in a shredding machine during class. The Appellee, Philadelphia Board of Education (Appellee), asserted governmental immunity, and the Superior Court affirmed the defense.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The defense of governmental immunity is no longer applicable in Pennsylvania.

    Facts. The Appellants brought suit to recover damages for injuries sustained by William Jr. when his arm was caught in a shredding machine in the upholstery class of the Carrol School in Philadelphia. As a result of the injuries, William Jr.’s arm was amputated. The Appellee asserted the defense of governmental immunity. The Superior Court affirmed the defense, finding for Appellee.

    Issue. Should Pennsylvania continue to apply the doctrine of governmental immunity?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed and remanded.
    * The doctrine of governmental immunity has its historical roots in English law. The theory of respondeat superior created problems with government employees, as the courts routinely denied relief because the King, as employer, could commit no torts. This rule is unjust as applied to modern American law, applying the burden of damages on the single individual who suffers the injury, rather than distributing the damages among the entire community constituting the government.
    * This Court also rejects the fear of excessive litigation as justification for the doctrine, as there is little empirical evidence to support the fear. Equally unpersuasive is the argument that governmental units lack the funds from which claims can be paid, as the availability of public insurance disavows such concerns. Additionally, allowing causes of action against governmental units should increase the concern for the welfare of those who might be injured by its actions.

    Dissent. Chief Justice Jones’s and Justice Eagen’s and O’Brien’s dissents are omitted.
    Concurrence. Justice Manderino’s concurrence is omitted.

    Discussion. In jurisdictions where governmental immunity is still applicable, a number of courts have held that the state’s authorization of a municipal corporation to purchase liability insurance serves as an implied waiver of immunity.


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