Articles Posted in Pennsylvania Supreme Court

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on the proper allocation of the burden of proof between an employer and a workers' compensation claimant regarding the injured employee's legal eligibility under federal immigration law to obtain suitable employment whenever the employer seeks to suspend workers' compensation disability benefits. The Court held that in this case, the Commonwealth Court correctly determined that Appellant, Kennett Square Specialties bore the burden to prove that the loss of earning power of its employee, David Cruz, was due to his lack of United States citizenship or other legal work authorization in order to obtain a suspension of his workers' compensation disability benefits. Furthermore, the Court held that Claimant's invocation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when questioned at the hearing before the Workers' Compensation Judge did not constitute substantial evidence of his alleged lack of legal authorization to be employed in the United States, and thus could not, standing alone, furnish sufficient evidence for the WCJ to suspend Claimant's benefits. View "Cruz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board" on Justia Law

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In this case, the trial and intermediate courts determined that a general contractor was not a statutory employer relative to an employee of its subcontractor. The issue before the Supreme Court centered on the tension between such rulings and the Supreme Court’s longstanding jurisprudence that conventional subcontract scenarios serve as paradigm instances in which the statutory-employment concept applies. Appellant Worthington Associates, Inc., was hired as the general contractor for an addition to a Levittown church. Worthington, in turn, entered into a standard-form subcontract with Patton Construction, Inc., of which Appellee Earl Patton was the sole shareholder and an employee, to perform carpentry. While working at the construction site, Mr. Patton fell and sustained injuries to his back. Subsequently, the Pattons commenced a civil action against Worthington contending that the company failed to maintain safe conditions at the jobsite. Worthington moved for summary judgment on the basis that it was Mr. Patton’s statutory employer and, accordingly, was immune from suit. After the motion was denied, trial proceeded during which Worthington reasserted its claim to immunity in unsuccessful motions for a nonsuit and a directed verdict. "Having set up an errant dichotomy for the jurors, the [trial] court proceeded to instruct them concerning the differences between independent contractors and employees at common law. In doing so, the trial court compounded the underlying conceptual difficulties it had engendered, because [the Supreme] Court has long held that, for the salient purposes under Sections 203 and 302(b) of the WCA, the term 'independent contractor' carries a narrower meaning than it does at common law." The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Pattons in the amount of $1.5 million in the aggregate. Post-trial motions were denied, and Worthington appealed. A Superior Court panel affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Mr. Patton’s relationship with the owner here was undeniably a derivative one, arising per a conventional subcontract with a general contractor (Worthington). "[U]nder longstanding precedent, neither Patton Construction, Inc., nor Mr. Patton was an 'independent contractor' relative to Worthington." View "Patton v. Worthington Associates" 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

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on the statutory interpretation concerning Section 413(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act, specifically whether the claimant/appellant should have been permitted to proceed on a post-500-week petition for reinstatement of total disability benefits where he filed that petition within three years of his most recent payment of compensation, a payment which was made pursuant to a post-500-week supplemental agreement, notwithstanding a prior suspension of payments due to his return to work without a loss in earning capacity. Resolving the question, involved first determining whether expiration of the 500-week period set forth within the Act operated as a bar to the assertion of total disability claims by employees who have experienced a suspension of benefits. Also affecting the Court's decision was the effect of payments made pursuant to supplemental agreements upon an otherwise expired workers' compensation claim. The Commonwealth Court below affirmed the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board's ("WCAB") reversal of a Workers' Compensation Judge's ("WCJ") decision granting appellant's reinstatement and penalty petitions. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that appellant's reinstatement petition was not timely filed. Accordingly, it affirmed the Commonwealth Court. View "Cozzone, Aplt v. WCAB (Pa Municipal/E. Goshen Twp)" on Justia Law

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Appellee Young's Sales & Service submitted a claim with Appellant Underground Storage Indemnification Fund for reimbursement of remediation costs it incurred following the release of certain regulated chemicals stored in underground tanks on its property. The claim was denied, and Appellee appealed. The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the Commonwealth Court correctly held that section 706(2) of the Storage Tank Spill Prevention Act applied on a per tank basis. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded it did not. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and reinstated the Board's order denying Appellee's claim. View "Young's Sales & Service v. Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Board" on Justia Law