A Bucks County jury awarded Ashley Zauflik $14 million in damages after the former Pennsbury High School student was run over by a bus in 2007. The young woman suffered severe injuries including the loss of her leg.
Despite the jury award, it’s not clear how much Zauflik will actually take home given state sovereign immunity rules that limit liability for school districts and municipalities, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Of the $14 million award, Zauflik received $2.9 million for past and future medical costs and $11.1 million for pain, suffering, and disfigurement, reports the Inquirer.
However, as Pennsylvania sovereign immunity laws limit damages for personal injury claims against public agencies, Zauflik is unlikely to see this full amount. In fact, actions against local government bodies are generally subject to a $500,000 cap. This means that regardless of how much a jury may think the defendant would have to pay in damages, the most that the defendant would be required to pay is $500,000.
The purpose of sovereign immunity laws is to protect government bodies from excessive lawsuits and liability. For example, government bodies like police departments, school districts, and highway construction workers provide a service to the public. To hold these agencies to the full extent of their potential liability could bankrupt these agencies. Additionally, as government bodies are accountable to the public through other means, like elections, civil liability for damages may not be necessary from a public policy perspective.
Ashley Zauflik was award $14 million for a school bus accident that crippled her for life. However, the young woman is unlikely to see this full amount due to Pennsylvania's sovereign immunity laws.