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Legal Responsibility A Question After Deadly Flash Flood

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(Credit: KDKA)

(Credit: KDKA)

Jon Delano Jon Delano
Jon Delano is a familiar face on KDKA-TV, having been the station's...
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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — People throughout the area are still asking how a major roadway could flood so quickly in such a deadly manner.

And sorting through who is “legally” responsible could result in lawsuits against the government.

But it’s not that simple.

With four loved ones lost in the flash flooding on Washington Boulevard — and nobody stepping up to take responsibility — it’s easy to imagine a lawsuit.

“The state takes the position they are responsible for the road surface only, and the city takes the position that they and the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority have a disagreement as to who maintains what, it’s not hard to understand why something like this could occur,” Attorney Richard Rosenthal, managing partner of Edgar Snyder & Associates, said.

He appears in TV ads focused on suing municipal and state governments. He says lawsuits against the government are not easy because of something called “sovereign immunity.”

“The sovereign is the state. And the old English law was, the sovereign could do no wrong and therefore only where the sovereign said they could be sued are the areas where you’re allowed to bring a claim,” he explained.

In Pennsylvania, victims have a limited right to sue government.

“There is a separate statute that makes the owner of the storm sewer system responsible if they have reason to know that there’s a problem and they had adequate time in which to cure the problem, then they can be found liable,” Rosenthal said.

But there’s a big catch — the state limits the amount recoverable from the city and its authorities to just $500,000 — and that’s for everyone combined. The state can only be sued for $250,000.

“The consumers or the individuals aren’t the people who the government is concerned with.”

But lawsuit or not, says Rosenthal, “People shouldn’t have to die for the roads and storm sewer systems to be fixed.”

Rosenthal says lawsuits do get government attention — even if the victims are never fully compensated.

Those caps have not been adjusted for inflation by the General Assembly for over 30 years.

Now if an adjacent non-government landowner is somehow at fault, there is no cap on recovering from them.

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