The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has already decided the case of Dean vs. Department of Transportation and decided that Penn DOT does not have a duty to erect guardrails on its roads. Penn DOT’s failure to erect guardrails on its highways does not give an injured party the right to recover money from them.

Okay, but what about Rumble Strips? The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on January 19, 2011 decided that issue also. It is an interesting fact pattern. In Brown vs. Department of Transportation, Karen Brown was a passenger in a car driven by John Hughes. Hughes fell asleep at the wheel causing the car to miss a curve in the road. It struck a low retaining wall and fell 40 feet, causing severe injuries to the passenger Brown. She sued Penn DOT claiming it was negligent in failing to place rumble strips along this portion of the road adjacent to a steep drop. Does Penn DOT have a duty to put rumble strips in and around the area of dangerous steep drop-offs?

The answer is no. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that Penn DOT had no duty to install rumble strips on the road where the accident occurred. The Court ruled the absence of rumble strips did not cause the accident to occur. Rather it was the driver falling asleep that caused the accident, not because there were no rumble strips to wake him up.

I think it is pretty clear that Courts are strictly interpreting the sovereign immunity laws in Pennsylvania and if you are going to successfully sue Penn DOT, your fact pattern had better fall within one of the noted exceptions to sovereign immunity.