Please note that nothing contained within this site may be construed as "legal advice" from the Office of Legal Counsel. Some of the material found here has been condensed from statutes, regulations, court decisions, policies of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and of the State System, and other sources. Users should always consult with University Contracting Officers first and then appropriate licensed counsel if specific legal or factual issues are involved. The material here are presented for informational purposes only. (source: http://www.passhe.edu/inside/legal/Pages/Counsel.aspx )
An ancient legal term, "sovereign immunity" refers to the doctrine of English common law under which the King (sovereign) could not be sued for civil wrongs or torts. The Crown enjoyed legal immunity from such claims. After the American Revolution, this legal immunity was assumed by the state governments, including that of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Generally speaking, the Commonwealth (which includes the State System and its constituent universities) has sovereign immunity from all tort claims, except for claims involving nine areas where such immunity has been specifically waived by the Legislature. These waived areas include, among others, dangerous conditions of Commonwealth-owned real estate, the care, custody and control of personal property, and vehicle liability. If a claim falls within one of the nine waived areas, no sovereign immunity exists, and the University and/or its employees could be held liable.
Generally speaking, so long as an employee is acting within the scope of his employment and in good faith, he will be defended and indemnified by the Commonwealth for injury or damages caused to others. Determinations in this regard are made by the State System's Chief Counsel in consultation with the Office of General Counsel and the Attorney General's Office.
As a state agency, the State System participates in two self-insurance programs administered by the Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) of the Department of General Services. The Tort Claims Self-Insurance Program covers eligible losses resulting from tort claims made against Commonwealth agencies and/or employees for wrongful acts resulting in injury to persons and property. The Employee Liability Self-Insurance Program (ELSIP) covers claims or suits for civil rights errors and omissions made against specifically named state officials or employee defendants who are acting in good faith and within the scope of their employment.
Generally, individuals who are acting as duly registered and authorized volunteers in compliance with Board of Governors Policy No. 1991-04 are entitled to legal defense and indemnification by the Commonwealth for liability arising from their acts or omissions, provided they are acting within the scope of their official duties and in good faith, to the same extent as officials and employees of the State System.
Students are generally not eligible for either legal defense or indemnification unless they are acting as duly registered and authorized volunteers in compliance with Board of Governors Policy No. 1991-04.
Generally speaking, if you are a State System employee who is acting within the scope of your employment and in good faith, or if you are a duly registered and authorized volunteer in compliance with Board of Governors Policy No. 1991-04, and are named as a defendant in a civil claim or lawsuit arising out of your acts or omissions, you will be legally defended by the Commonwealth and indemnified from any resulting monetary judgment against you. Determinations concerning whether an employee or volunteer is acting within the scope of her employment and in good faith are made by the Chief Counsel of the State System in consultation with the Office of General Counsel and the Attorney General's Office.
Employees named as defendants in criminal actions arising from acts or omissions occurring while in the service of the Commonwealth are required to retain private (non-Commonwealth) counsel. In the event it is ultimately determined by the Chief Counsel of the State System, in consultation with the Office of General Counsel, that there is no basis for the criminal prosecution as a matter of law or fact, the Commonwealth may reimburse the employee for reasonable attorneys fees.
Updated: October 2015