Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the scope and application of the qualified immunity provided under Section 114 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. sections 7101-7503. On November 20, 2012, twenty-three year-old Andrew Johnson (Andrew) voluntarily admitted himself to Bowling Green-Brandywine Addiction Treatment Center (Brandywine). Andrew sought drug rehabilitation treatment for his addiction to opiates (OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (Xanax), which were first prescribed to him two years earlier for pain and anxiety related to back injuries arising from an ATV accident. He was accompanied by his mother, appellant Melissa Dean, and reported his health history to Brandywine staff. Appellee Mohammad Ali Khan, M.D., a physician at Brandywine, took Andrew’s medical history and performed a physical exam. At approximately 8:15 in the evening of November 28, 2012, the nursing staff informed Khan of Andrew’s elevated vital signs, but Khan declined to examine Andrew, did not issue any new treatment orders, and instructed the nursing staff not to transfer Andrew to the emergency room. The nursing staff again checked Andrew every few hours, noting his vital signs but giving no additional treatment. At approximately 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Andrew was found lying on the floor of his room, face down, without a pulse. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andrew’s parents, appellant Dean and Clifton Johnson, as administrators of Andrew’s estate and in their individual capacities, filed suit against Brandywine, Dr. Kahn, and others who treated Andrew, raising medical malpractice, wrongful death and survival claims. Specifically, appellants alleged Andrew died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to the combination of medications prescribed during treatment at Brandywine, and that his death was the result of medical negligence including the failure to properly examine, diagnose, appreciate, and treat his medical condition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in affirming entry of a compulsory nonsuit and held immunity did not apply under circumstances where: (1) the patient was admitted for and primarily received drug detoxification treatment; and (2) the patient did not receive treatment to facilitate recovery from a mental illness. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the employee’s injury can be said to have occurred on the airline’s premises for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court, Appeal Board, and WCJ correctly concluded that the lot in which the employee parked her vehicle was integral to the company’s business operations. The employee used the airport parking lot and shuttle service to enter and exit her workplace. As part of the airline’s business relationship with the airport, it clearly was aware that the Division of Aviation would make employee parking available to the airline’s employees. “Indeed, the evidence presented to the WCJ suggests that, had the Division not done so, US Airways would have been obligated under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to reimburse flight attendants like Bockelman for the cost of airport parking.” View "US Airways, et al. v. WCAB (Bockelman)" on Justia Law

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This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter challenged a superior court decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of Appellees Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Company, and Janssen Research and Development, LLC (collectively, “Janssen”). Saksek and Winter were two of a large number of men who filed suit against Janssen, alleging that they developed gynecomastia as a result of their ingestion of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug manufactured by Janssen. In 2014, Janssen filed two motions for summary judgment, which were nominally directed at Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, but had language affecting all Risperdal plaintiffs: the companies sought a global ruling that all claims accrued for statute of limitations purposes no later than October 31, 2006, when Janssen changed the Risperdal label to reflect a greater association between gynecomastia and Risperdal. The trial court ruled that all Risperdal-gynecomastia claims accrued no later June 31, 2009. The superior court disagreed, ruling that all such claims accrued no later than Janssen’s preferred date (October 31, 2006). Concluding that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment at all in Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Risperdal Litig." on Justia Law

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Appellant Joan Grove was awarded a jury verdict of $250,000.00 in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, in a personal injury action against Appellee, Port Authority of Allegheny County. On appeal, the Commonwealth Court vacated the award of damages and remanded for a new trial on the basis that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on negligence per se. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine whether the trial court’s failure to give a negligence per se charge, where the jury nevertheless found Grove negligent, amounted to error because the negligence per se charge was relevant to apportionment of factual cause. The Supreme Court concluded it did. Because the jury found Grove negligent, any perceived error in failing to instruct on negligence per se was harmless error. Importantly, the Commonwealth Court did not make a finding of prejudice in its harmless error analysis; “it merely opined the proposed instructions could have influenced the jury. The standard is not that the omitted instructions could have influenced the jury. Prejudice is required. A lack of any prejudice analysis undermines the Commonwealth Court’s conclusion that the error was not harmless.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s order reversing the trial court and granting Port Authority a new trial. This matter was remanded to the Commonwealth Court for disposition of Grove’s cross-appeal. View "Grove v. Port Authority of Allegheny County" on Justia Law

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Susan Yanakos suffered from a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (AATD). In the summer of 2003, one of Susan’s physicians, Dr. Amadeo Marcos, advised her that she needed a liver transplant due to the progression of her AATD. Because Susan was not a candidate for a cadaver liver, her son Christopher volunteered to donate a lobe of his liver to his mother. Christopher advised one of his mother’s physicians that several of his family members suffered from AATD, but that he was unsure whether he did as well. Additional laboratory tests for Christopher were ordered, but Christopher was never informed him of the results, which allegedly showed that Christopher had AATD and was not a candidate for liver donation. One month after Christopher’s consultation with physicians, surgery proceeded; a portion of Christopher’s liver was removed and transplanted into Susan. More than twelve years later, Christopher, Susan, and Susan’s husband, William Yanakos sued UPMC, and the doctors involved, raising claims for battery/lack of informed consent, medical malpractice, and loss of consortium. The Yanakoses alleged that they did not discover Appellees’ negligence until eleven years after the transplant surgery, when additional testing revealed that Susan still had AATD, which the transplant should have eliminated. In this appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the seven-year statute of repose in Section 1303.513(a) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (MCARE Act) comported with Article I, Section 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Because the Court concluded the seven-year statute of repose was not substantially related to an important government interest, it reversed the Superior Court’s order affirming the trial court’s grant of judgment on the pleadings and remanded for further proceedings. View "Yanakos. v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding whether an increase to the limits of underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage for multiple vehicles that are insured under an existing policy constitutes a “purchase” for purposes of Subsection 1738(c) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Michelle Barnard purchased a personal automobile policy from Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (“Travelers”) to insure her two vehicles. As part of this policy, Barnard purchased UIM coverage in the amount of $50,000 per vehicle. Barnard waived stacking of her UIM coverage limits. Two years later, Barnard increased the UIM coverage limit on each of her vehicles to $100,000. Barnard did not execute a new stacking waiver at that time. Then several more years later, Barnard was involved in a motor vehicle accident with an underinsured motorist. When Barnard sought UIM benefits from Travelers, Travelers offered her $100,000 based upon the UIM coverage limit on one of her vehicles. Barnard filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, seeking $200,000 in stacked UIM benefits. Travelers removed the case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Based upon the plain language of Subsection 1738(c), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court answered the Third Circuit's question in the affirmative: therefore, an increase of UIM coverage under circumstances as was presented here triggered an insurance company’s statutory obligation to offer an insured the opportunity to waive stacking of the new, aggregate amount of UIM coverage. View "Barnard v. Travelers Home, et al" on Justia Law

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Betty and Curtis Shiflett sued Lehigh Valley Hospital and Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc. (collectively, the “Hospital”) for negligence in connection with injuries Betty suffered while in the hospital for knee surgery. The jury returned a verdict for the Shifletts, awarding them $2,391,620 in damages. The Superior Court ruled that one of the claims upon which the Shifletts prevailed at trial was time-barred and should not have been submitted to the jury. Finding that some portion of the jury’s damage award may have been based upon the time-barred claim, the intermediate appellate court remanded the case for a new trial on damages. After its review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in this regard, as pursuant to the “general-verdict rule” adopted by Halper v. Jewish Family & Children’s Services, 963 A.2d 1282 (Pa. 2009), the Hospital waived any entitlement to a new trial on damages when it failed to request a special interrogatory on the verdict sheet that would have permitted the jury to allocate the damages awarded on each claim. View "Shiflett v. Lehigh Valley Health" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Rachel Dixon was driving a car owned by her boyfriend, Rene Oriental-Guillermo (“Policyholder”), when she was involved in an accident with a vehicle in which Priscila Jimenez was a passenger, and which was owned by Iris Velazquez, and operated by Alli Licona-Avila. At the time of the accident, Dixon resided with Policyholder, who had purchased a personal automobile insurance policy (“Policy”) for his vehicle through Safe Auto Insurance Company (“Safe Auto”). The Policy contained an unlisted resident driver exclusion (“URDE”), which excluded from coverage any individuals who lived with, but were not related to, the policyholder, and whom the policyholder did not specifically list as an additional driver on the insurance policy. Jimenez and her husband Luis (collectively, “Appellants”) filed a personal injury lawsuit against Dixon, Policyholder, and Licona-Avila. On May 13, 2015, Safe Auto filed a complaint against Dixon, Policyholder, and Appellants, seeking a declaratory judgment regarding the enforceability of the URDE with respect to Dixon. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Safe Auto, finding the URDE unambiguous, valid, and enforceable, and concluding that Safe Auto had no duty under the Policy to defend or indemnify Dixon in the underlying personal injury lawsuit. Appellants timely appealed to the Superior Court, arguing: (1) the trial court erred in holding the URDE was valid and enforceable; (2) that the URDE violated the provisions of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”); and (3) that the URDE violated public policy. The Superior Court affirmed the order of the trial court in a divided, published opinion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concurred the URDE at issue in this case was enforceable, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Safe Auto v. Oriental-Guillermo" on Justia Law

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Appellees Augustus Feleccia and Justin Resch were student athletes who played football at Lackawanna Junior College (Lackawanna), a nonprofit junior college. Lackawanna had customarily employed two athletic trainers to support the football program. The Athletic Director, Kim Mecca, had to fill two trainer vacancies in the summer of 2009. She received applications from Kaitlin Coyne, and Alexis Bonisese. At the time she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position, Coyne had not yet passed the athletic trainer certification exam, and was therefore not licensed by the Board. Bonisese was also not licensed, having failed the exam on her first attempt, and still awaiting the results of her second attempt when she applied and interviewed for the Lackawanna position. Nevertheless, Lackawanna hired both Coyne and Bonisese in August 2009 with the expectation they would serve as athletic trainers, pending receipt of their exam results, and both women signed “athletic trainer” job descriptions. After starting their employment at Lackawanna, Coyne and Bonisese both learned they did not pass the athletic trainer certification exam. Mecca retitled the positions held by Coyne and Bonisese from “athletic trainers” to “first responders.” However, neither Coyne nor Bonisese executed new job descriptions, despite never achieving the credentials included in the athletic trainer job descriptions they did sign. Appellants were also aware the qualifications of their new hires was called into question by their college professors and clinic supervisors. In 2010, appellees participated in the first day of spring contact football practice, engaging in a variation of the tackling drill known as the “Oklahoma Drill.” While participating in the drill, both Resch and Feleccia suffered injuries. Resch attempted to make a tackle and suffered a T-7 vertebral fracture. Resch was unable to get up off the ground and Coyne attended to him before he was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Later that same day, Feleccia was injured while attempting to make his first tackle, experiencing a “stinger” in his right shoulder, i.e., experiencing numbness, tingling and a loss of mobility in his right shoulder. Bonisese attended Feleccia and cleared him to continue practice “if he was feeling better.” In this discretionary appeal arising from the dismissal of appellees’ personal injury claims on summary judgment, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether the superior court erred in: (1) finding a duty of care; and (2) holding a pre-injury waiver signed by student athletes injured while playing football was not enforceable against claims of negligence, gross negligence, and recklessness. After careful review, the Court affirmed the superior court’s order only to the extent it reversed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment on the claims of gross negligence and recklessness. The Case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Feleccia v. Lackawanna College, et al." on Justia Law