Sellers v. Twp. of Abington (majority)Annotate this Case
In 2006, Scott Simons, Matthew Senger and Joshua Sellers (decedent) met at the home of a mutual friend in Abington Township. Simons had been drinking all day prior to this engagement, but testified that he did not drink at the residence. In the early morning hours of December 24, 2006, Senger and the decedent asked Simons for a ride home. None of the men fastened their seatbelts. Simons testified that he was, in fact, drunk when he left the party, and admitted that this was not the first time he had driven his friends home drunk. Simons testified that the police car made a U-turn and began following Simons with its lights and siren activated. Simons admitted that instead of pulling over, he fled, as he was “scared of getting a DUI.” Senger testified that when Simons initially “floored his car,” he was not aware that police were pursuing the car. Senger estimated that Simons was driving “well over 100” miles per hour. Senger testified that both he and decedent then asked Simons to slow down, as they were aware of a dip in the road ahead. Simons continued at a high rate of speed and ultimately hit the dip in the road. The car was sent airborne and crashed into trees and a parked pickup truck. Simons and Senger suffered minor injuries, while decedent was ejected from the vehicle and thrown 20 feet away, suffering a catastrophic brain injury, along with other injuries. Appellants Celeste and Richard Sellers, parents of the decedent, filed a wrongful death and survival action against appellees the Township of Abington, Officer Edward Howley, and Lieutenant Karl Knott asserting claims for negligence and punitive damages. Appellants alleged that appellees caused the death of decedent when Officer Howley negligently, recklessly, and willfully initiated and failed to terminate a high speed pursuit of Simons’ vehicle. After the completion of discovery, Appellees moved for summary judgment based upon governmental immunity. The central issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether a local agency owed a common law or statutory duty of care to a passenger of a fleeing vehicle, whose existence or relationship to the fleeing driver was unknown to the pursuing police officer. The Commonwealth Court concluded that appellees did not owe a duty of care to fleeing suspects. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's decision.