Justia Pennsylvania Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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In a case brought before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Michael and Melissa Sullivan sued Werner Company and Lowe's Companies, Inc. over a mobile scaffold that collapsed and caused serious injury to Michael Sullivan. The Sullivans claimed the scaffold was defectively designed because it was possible for a user to inadvertently rotate the deck pins off the platform during normal use.Before trial, the Sullivans filed a motion to preclude Werner and Lowe’s from admitting into evidence any industry or government standards, which the trial court granted. The jury ultimately found Werner and Lowe’s liable for the design defect and awarded the Sullivans $2.5 million in damages.Werner and Lowe's appealed, arguing that they should have been allowed to present evidence that the mobile scaffold complied with industry and governmental safety standards. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the lower courts' decisions, ruling that such compliance evidence remained inadmissible in products liability cases.The court applied the risk-utility test, which asserts that a product is in a defective condition if a ‘reasonable person’ would conclude that the probability and seriousness of harm caused by the product outweigh the burden or costs of taking precautions. The court concluded that evidence of a product’s compliance with governmental regulations or industry standards is inadmissible in design defect cases to show a product is not defective under the risk-utility theory because such evidence goes to the reasonableness of the manufacturer’s conduct in making its design choice, not to whether the product was defectively designed. View "Sullivan v. Werner Co." on Justia Law

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Cosmo DiNardo (“DiNardo”) suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder, and, as a result, exhibited psychosis, grandiose speech, suicidal ideation, as well as homicidal ideation and violent behavior. He confessed to killing four individuals, and pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree murder. He subsequently filed a complaint against his treating psychiatrist and health care providers, claiming that his criminal conduct was the result of his psychiatrist’s grossly negligent treatment, and sought compensatory damages, indemnification for judgments levied against him by his victims’ families, and counsel fees. In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's consideration was whether the “no felony conviction recovery” rule precluded DiNardo’s cause of action. Because the Court found the rule barred the medical malpractice claims at issue in this appeal, it affirmed the order of the Superior Court. View "DiNardo v. Kohler, et al." on Justia Law

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In this case, a Pennsylvania trial court transferred venue based on a determination the corporate defendant did not regularly conduct business in Philadelphia County because only 0.005% of the company’s total national revenue was derived from that county. On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, holding the trial court abused its discretion in transferring venue. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to evaluate the Superior Court’s determination, and affirmed: venue was proper in Philadelphia County. View "Hangey, et al. v. Husqvarna, et al." on Justia Law

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In August 2014, Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (“DFA”) sponsored a golf outing for its employees at Tanglewood Golf Course in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. As a condition of attendance, DFA required employees to provide a “monetary contribution to offset costs and expenses” associated with the event, which it used to pay for items such as “greens fees, food and alcohol.” One of DFA’s employees, Roger Williams, made the contribution and attended the golf outing. According to Appellant David Klar, DFA had reason to know that Williams was an alcoholic and that he previously had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. At the event, Williams’ alcohol consumption was unsupervised, and he drank beyond the point of visible intoxication. Williams departed the golf outing in his car. While driving, Williams encountered Klar, who was operating a motorcycle in the southbound lane. Williams swerved across the center line into Klar’s path. The resulting collision caused Klar to suffer numerous and grievous injuries. Klar sued both Williams and DFA, contending that they were jointly and severally liable for his injuries. This case calls upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to revisit precedents that have prevailed for half a century and that imposed liability upon persons and entities licensed to engage in the commercial sale of alcohol while limiting the liability of non-licensees and “social hosts.” The lower courts applied these precedents to conclude that an organization which hosted an event at which alcohol was provided, but was not a liquor licensee, could not be held liable for injuries caused by a guest who became intoxicated at the event. Finding no basis to disturb the long-settled law of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America" on Justia Law

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During their employment with Dialysis Clinic, Inc. (DCI), the Doctors maintained staff privileges and worked at Washington Hospital. In 2013, Alyssa McLaughlin was admitted to the Hospital and received treatment from, among other medical staff, the Doctors, Kathryn Simons, M.D., Anne F. Josiah, M.D., Thomas Pirosko, D.O., and Ashely Berkley, D.O. At some point during or after that treatment, McLaughlin sustained severe and permanent neurological injuries. Attributing those injuries to negligence in her treatment, McLaughlin and her husband, William McLaughlin (collectively, the McLaughlins), initiated an action against the Doctors, the Hospital, and the other physicians noted above who were responsible for her care. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, as a matter of law, the Hospital could seek contribution and/or indemnity from DCI for negligence committed by DCI’s employees (the Doctors). The trial and superior courts both concluded that, although traditional principles of contribution and indemnity did not apply cleanly these particular circumstances, equitable principles of law permitted the Hospital to seek both contribution and indemnity from DCI. As a result, the trial court denied DCI’s motion for summary relief, and the superior court affirmed. The Supreme Court was unanimous in finding that, if the Hospital and DCI were determined to be vicariously liable for the negligence of the Doctors, the law permitted the Hospital to seek contribution from DCI. The Court was evenly divided on the question of whether the Hospital could also seek indemnification from DCI. Given the decision on contribution and inability to reach a decision on indemnity, the superior court was affirmed on those questions. View "McLaughlin v. Nahata, et al." on Justia Law

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By 2011, due to weathering and aging, the condition of the concrete stairs leading to the entrance of the Oil City Library (the “library”) had significantly declined. Oil City contracted with Appellants Harold Best and Struxures, LLC, to develop plans for the reconstruction of the stairs and to oversee the implementation of those design plans. The actual reconstruction work was performed by Appellant Fred Burns, Inc., pursuant to a contract with Oil City (appellants collectively referred to as “Contractors”). Contractors finished performing installation work on the stairs by the end of 2011. In early 2012, Oil City began to receive reports about imperfections in the concrete surface, which also began to degrade. In September 2013, Oil City informed Burns of what it considered to be its defective workmanship in creating the dangerous condition of the stairs. Between February 28, 2012 and November 23, 2015, the condition of the stairs continued to worsen; however, neither Oil City nor Contractors made any efforts to repair the stairs, or to warn the public about their dangerous condition. In 2015, Appellee David Brown (“Brown”) and his wife Kathryn exited the library and began to walk down the concrete stairs. While doing so, Kathryn tripped on one of the deteriorated sections, which caused her to fall and strike her head, suffering a traumatic head injury. Tragically, this injury claimed her life six days later. Brown, in his individual capacity and as the executor of his wife’s estate, commenced a wrongful death suit, asserting negligence claims against Oil City, as owner of the library, as well as Contractors who performed the work on the stairs pursuant to their contract with Oil City. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether Section 385 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts imposed liability on a contractor to a third party whenever the contractor, during the course of his work for a possessor of land, creates a dangerous condition on the land that injures the third party, even though, at the time of the injury, the contractor was no longer in possession of the land, and the possessor was aware of the dangerous condition. To this, the Court concluded, as did the Commonwealth Court below, that a contractor may be subjected to liability under Section 385 in such circumstances. View "Brown v. Oil City, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellants Robert and Kelly Franks sought automobile insurance from Appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in 2013 for their two vehicles. Appellants included underinsured motorist coverage (“UIM”) in their policy but completed a form rejecting stacked UIM coverage in compliance with Section 1738(d)(2) of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Absent such waiver, stacked coverage would be the default. Appellants removed one of the original vehicles and added a third vehicle to the policy effective 2014, and again rejected stacked UIM coverage. They made another change to the policy in 2015, removing the other of the original insured vehicles with a different car. No additional form rejecting stacked UIM coverage was offered or sought to be completed on the occasion of the removal of the last vehicle, and the ongoing premiums paid by Appellants reflected the lower rate for non-stacked UIM overage on two vehicles. Robert was injured in an accident caused by the negligence of a third party. That party had insufficient liability coverage to cover Robert's injuries. Appellants initiated a claim for UIM benefits under their policy with State Farm, but the parties disagreed on the limit to their benefits. Appellants contended with the last change to the policy, there was no valid waiver of stacked UIM coverage, resulting in a default stacked coverage mandated by statute. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review in this matter was whether the Superior Court erred as a matter of law by holding that removal of a vehicle from a multiple motor vehicle insurance policy, in which stacked coverage had previously been waived, did not require a renewed express waiver of stacked coverage pursuant to Section 1738(c). The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court did not err and affirmed its judgment. View "Franks, et al. v. State Farm Mutual" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Respondent Lindsay Franczyk, was working at a Home Depot store when a customer’s dog bit her. Franczyk reported the bite promptly to her supervisors, Philip Rogers and Thomas Mason (collectively with Home Depot, “Defendants”). Franczyk later was diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, which required surgical repair. Franczyk claimed and received Workers’ Compensation Act ("WCA") benefits. Franczyk sued Defendants. In her relevant claim, Franczyk asserts that Defendants failed to investigate the incident sufficiently, and that they negligently allowed the dog owner and witnesses to leave without obtaining identifying information. She contended these acts and omissions denied her the opportunity to file a third-party suit against the dog owner. After the pleading and discovery phases of the litigation concluded, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the WCA’s exclusivity provision. The trial court recognized a novel exception and denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed: "the exception proffered by the lower courts cannot be reconciled with the Act’s design, purpose, or plain language." Thus, judgment was reversed. View "Franczyk v. Home Depot, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2018, Albert Mione (“Mione”) was in a collision while operating his motorcycle. Mione’s motorcycle was insured by Progressive Insurance, under a policy that did not include UM/UIM coverage. Albert and his wife Lisa jointly owned a car, which was insured by Erie Insurance on a single-vehicle policy that included UM/UIM coverage with stacking. Mione’s adult daughter Angela also lived in the couple’s home, and she too owned a car, which Erie insured on a single-vehicle policy (“Angela’s policy”). Both of the Erie policies contained household vehicle exclusions barring UM/UIM coverage for injuries sustained while operating a household vehicle not listed on the policy under which benefits are sought. The courts below held that the exclusions were valid and enforceable, citing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1998 decision in Eichelman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 711 A.2d 1006 (Pa. 1998). The Miones, contended that the lower courts erred in applying Eichelman, arguing that the Supreme Court sub silentio overruled that decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Co., 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). The Supreme Court rejected the Miones’ argument, and affirmed. View "Erie Insurance Exch. v. Mione, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellee Linda Reibenstein undisputedly brought her claims against Appellant Patrick Conaboy, M.D., after the two-year period had run, and the death certificate undisputedly and correctly noted the medical cause of Reibenstein’s decedent’s death. The trial court ruled that the phrase “cause of death” referred specifically and only to the direct medical cause of death. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to Dr. Conaboy under Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“MCARE”). The Superior Court reversed, interpreting “cause of death” more broadly to encompass considerations associated with the manner of death (i.e., legal cause). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that MCARE’s tolling provision could not bear the breadth of that reading, and reversed. View "Reibenstein v. Barax" on Justia Law