Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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The facts of this matter arose out of a fatal accident involving a collision between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the admissibility of the pedestrian’s postmortem blood alcohol content (“BAC”) in a personal injury action against a motorist and, whether independent corroborating evidence of the pedestrian’s intoxication was required, in addition to expert testimony interpreting the BAC, before the BAC evidence may be admitted. The Court declined to adopt a bright-line rule predicating admissibility on the existence of independent corroborating evidence of intoxication and instead held that the admissibility of BAC evidence was within the trial court’s discretion based upon general rules governing the admissibility of evidence, and the court’s related assessment of whether the evidence establishes the pedestrian’s unfitness to cross the street. Thus, the Court found the trial court properly exercised its discretion in admitting the BAC evidence at issue and affirmed the Superior Court order. View "Coughlin v. Massaquoi" on Justia Law

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Section 306(a.2) of the Workers' Compensation Act allowed employers to demand that a claimant undergo an impairment -rating evaluation (IRE), during which a physician must determine the "degree of impairment" that is due to the claimant's compensable injury. In order to make this assessment, the Act required physicians to apply the methodology set forth in "the most recent edition" of the American Medical Association (AMA) Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. In consolidated appeals, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether this mandate violated the constitutional requirement that all legislative power "be vested in a General Assembly, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives." In 2007, Mary Ann Protz sustained a work -related knee injury. Her employer, Derry Area School District (Derry), voluntarily began paying temporary total disability benefits. An IRE physician evaluated Protz and assigned to her a 10% impairment rating based upon the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (the Guides). Because Protz's impairment rating was less than 50%, Derry filed a modification petition seeking to convert Protz's disability status from total to partial -the effect of which would be to limit the duration that Protz could receive workers' compensation benefits. A Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) granted the petition. Protz appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, arguing that the General Assembly unconstitutionally delegated to the AMA the authority to establish criteria for evaluating permanent impairment. The Board rejected Protz's constitutional argument and affirmed the WCJ's decision. The Commonwealth Court reversed the Board, finding that the Act lacked "adequate standards to guide and restrain the AMA's exercise" of its delegated power to create a methodology for grading impairment. Derry and Protz appealed. The Supreme Court concluded the Pennsylvania Constitution prevented the General Assembly from passing off to another branch or body de facto control over matters of policy. The Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court's holding that Section 306(a.2) violated the non-delegation doctrine, however, found that Section 306(a.2) was unconstitutional in its entirety. View "Protz v. Workers Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Pertinent to this appeal, the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”) required insurers to offer insureds Underinsured Motorist coverage. Subsection 1731(c.1) of the MVFRL stated that any UIM coverage rejection form that does not “specifically comply” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL was void and that, if an insurer failed to produce a valid UIM coverage rejection form, then UIM coverage shall be equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to determine whether an insurer’s UIM coverage rejection form “specifically compl[ied]” with Section 1731 of the MVFRL if the insurer’s form was not a verbatim reproduction of the statutory rejection form found in Subsection 1731(c) of the MVFRL but, rather, differed from the statutory form in an inconsequential manner. The Court held that a UIM coverage rejection form specifically complies with Section 1731 of the MVFRL even if the form contains de minimis deviations from the statutory form. Because the Superior Court reached the proper result in this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that court’s judgment. View "Ford v. American States Ins." on Justia Law

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In October 2009, Appellees Richard and Joyce Rost filed suit against multiple manufacturers of asbestos, averring that exposure to the defendants’ asbestos containing products caused Richard to contract mesothelioma. Before trial, the Rosts settled their claims against all defendants except for Appellant Ford Motor Company (“Ford”). Over Ford’s objections, the trial court consolidated the case for trial with two other mesothelioma cases. Trial commenced in September 2011, at which time the trial court reminded the parties of a pre-trial ruling, precluding any expert from offering testimony that “each and every breath” of asbestos may constitute an evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the defendant’s product was a substantial cause of mesothelioma. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation, seeking to provide further illumination on the principles set forth in its decisions in this area. After review, the Court concluded the trial court and the Superior Court properly applied those principles in this case, and thus affirmed the judgment entered in favor of Appellees. View "Rost v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice case, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether the trial court properly gave an "error in judgment" jury instruction. The underlying case arose out of the death of a two-month-old child while under the care of his pediatricians. Appellees sued the pediatricians. Their experts testified that the doctors deviated from the standard of care by failing to refer the child for further testing. The trial judge held a charging conference and stated that all of the doctors' proposed points for charge would "either be read or covered." The judge, however, did not say which (if any) proposed changes would actually be read to the jury. Appellees did not object at the time. The judge then proceeded to discuss one of the doctors' proposed "error in judgment" charge. Counsel for Appellees objected that the instruction was inappropriate for this case. The judge ultimately included the "error in judgment" charge when instructing the jury. The jury later ruled in the doctors' favor. Appellees filed timely post-trial motions arguing, among other things, the trial court erred in giving the "error in judgment" charge. Approximately one month after Appellees filed their post-trial motions (and before the trial court ruled on those motions), the Superior Court filed its decision in "Pringle v. Rapaport," (980 A.2d 159 (Pa.Super. 2009)). In that case, the trial court had given a charge very similar to the one given here. Approximately one year later, the Superior Court decided Pringle, holding: "such an instruction should never be given because it 'wrongly suggests to the jury that a physician is not culpable for one type of negligence, namely the negligent exercise of his or her judgment.'" The trial court here denied Appellees' post-trial motions and entered judgment in the doctors' favor. The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court applied Pringle correctly to the circumstances of this case. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.View "Passarello v. Grumbine" on Justia Law

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In a products liability matter, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether under Pennsylvania law a pharmaceutical company was immune from responding in damages for a lack of due care resulting in injury or death except for two discrete grounds: drug impurities or deficient warnings. Appellee made her primary claim against the makers of "phen-fen" as one of "negligence - unreasonable marketing of a dangerous rug and unreasonable failure to remove the drug from the market before 1997." The manufacturer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the appellee failed to assert a cognizable cause of action. The court of common please granted the company's motion. The Superior Court reversed, and both parties appealed, challenging respectively the Superior Court's holdings that pharmaceutical companies were not immune from claims of negligent drug design, and that claims of negligent marketing, testing, and failure of remove the drugs from the market were unviable claims. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings: "there has been no supported presentation here which would persuade us to immunize companies from the responsibility to respond in damages for such a lack of due care resulting in personal injury or death." View "Lance v. Wyeth" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, the issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether, under an insurance policy for underinsured motorist coverage, the amount of an insured's recovery may be offset by the amount of all damages paid in satisfaction of the underlying judgment, or by only the amount of compensation paid under the auto insurance policy of the underinsured driver/tortfeasor. Under the circumstances of this case, the Court held that the amount of damages which could be offset against recovery under a UIM policy includes damages recovered from all tortfeasors. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court. View "AAA Mid-Atlantic Ins. Co. v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the manifestation of an occupational disease outside of the 300-week period prescribed by Section 301(c)(2) of the Workers’ Compensation Act removes the claim from the purview of the Act, such that the exclusivity provision of Section 303(a) does not apply. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded that claims for occupational disease which manifest outside of the 300-week period prescribed by the Act do not fall within the purview of the Act, and, therefore, that the exclusivity provision of Section 303(a) does not apply to preclude an employee from filing a common law claim against an employer. Accordingly, in these cases, the Court reversed the Superior Court's decision.View "Tooey v. AK Steel" on Justia Law

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Appellant Annette Shoap sustained a work-related injury in the nature of a left shoulder injury while working as an employee of Phoenixville Hospital. She began receiving temporary total disability benefits pursuant to a Notice of Compensation Payable dated 2003. The treatment for Appellant’s injury included three surgeries and physical therapy. In 2007, the employer filed a modification petition alleging both that Appellant’s physical condition had improved and that work was generally available to her within her physical restrictions in the relevant geographical area, as demonstrated by two labor market surveys. Appellant denied the material allegations of Employer’s petition, and a hearing was held before a Workers’ Compensation Judge. After the WCJ ruled in the employer's favor, Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and Commonwealth Court. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Appellant asserted that the Commonwealth Court erred by concluding that “substantial gainful employment existed” for purposes of granting a modification of her compensation benefits pursuant to Section 306(b) of the Workers' Compensation Act, despite the fact that her application for the specific jobs involved failed to result in any offers of employment. Secondarily, Appellant argued that the Commonwealth Court, even if correct in its interpretation of Section 306(b), erred by not remanding the case for further evidentiary development based on its interpretation of Section 306(b), which Appellant contended represented a change in the standard for evaluating cases under that statute. After careful review, the Supreme Court agreed with Appellant's second contention, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Phoenixville Hospital v. WCAB (Shoap, Aplt)" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether the Commonwealth Court erred by affirming the reversal by the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (“WCAB”) of the decision of a workers’ compensation judge (“WCJ”) that granted Appellant Philip Payes's claim application. The WCJ determined that Appellant was entitled to workers’ compensation disability benefits based on factual findings that Appellant established the existence of a mental disability that had been caused by abnormal working conditions. Upon review, the Court concluded that the Commonwealth Court erred in reversing the WCJ’s decision, and accordingly reversed the order.View "Payes v. WCAB (PA State Police)" on Justia Law