Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to determine whether the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“PennDOT”) was liable for injuries caused by negligently and dangerously designed guardrails erected on Commonwealth real estate. Specifically, the Court found the issue reduced to whether the Commonwealth owed a duty of care when PennDOT installed a guardrail alleged to be dangerous. Pursuant to the plain language of the Sovereign Immunity Act, 42 Pa.C.S. sections 8521-8528, the Court found the Pennsylvania General Assembly waived PennDOT’s immunity as a bar to damages caused by dangerous guardrails affixed to Commonwealth real estate. Dean v. Dep’t of Transp., 751 A.2d 1130 (Pa. 2000) did not control under the facts presented here. The Court reversed the decision of the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cagey v. PennDOT" on Justia Law

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The employer, Allegheny County, was ordered to pay $14,750.00 in attorney’s fees under Section 440 of the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act after the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (“WCAB”) determined that the County unreasonably contested its liability under the Act. Though the County sought supersedeas of that order, arguing that the finding of liability was in error, supersedeas was denied. Thus, the County complied with the order and paid the awarded fee to the employee’s counsel. Upon reaching the merits of the County’s appeal, however, the Commonwealth Court reversed, concluding that the County not only had a reasonable basis for its contest, but a prevailing one, and that the employee was no longer entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Thereafter, the County filed a separate petition before a Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) in which it sought reimbursement of the erroneously awarded attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether a court could order an employee’s attorney to disgorge erroneously awarded, but already paid, unreasonable contest attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440, when the substantive basis for the award was later overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court found that the General Assembly, in enacting the Workers’ Compensation Act, did not provide any mechanism by which employers could recoup erroneously awarded counsel fees, once paid. The General Assembly contemplated that when a merits appeal is undertaken, a court may grant supersedeas of an order awarding attorney’s fees. Because such a supersedeas was requested and denied in this case, the Court held that the County may not recoup the already paid attorney’s fees from the employee’s counsel. The Court vacated the Commonwealth Court’s order and reinstated the order of the WCAB, which affirmed the denial of the County’s reimbursement petition. View "County of Allegheny v. WCAB (Parker)" on Justia Law

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In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allocatur to consider, inter alia, the collateral order doctrine and whether a plaintiff in a civil personal injury action had the right to have counsel present and to record a neuropsychological examination of that plaintiff by a defendant’s neuropsychologist under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 4010. In 2010, Appellee Scott Hafer was operating a motor vehicle owned by his mother, Appellee Paulette Ford. Appellant Diana Shearer alleged Hafer pulled his vehicle into the path of the vehicle that she was driving, causing an accident. As result of the collision, Shearer and her husband Jeff Shearer filed a personal injury action against Hafer and Ford. Appellants’ claims included damages for cognitive harm to Mrs. Shearer caused by the accident, including a closed head injury that resulted in headaches, cognitive impairment, and memory deficits. In preparation for trial, Appellants hired a neuropsychologist to perform a cognitive evaluation. This evaluation, which employed standardized testing procedures, was conducted without Appellants’ counsel or any other third party present. The Supreme Court determined Appellants did not satisfy the second and third prongs of the “collateral order doctrine.” Thus, the trial court’s order disallowing representation during the standardized portion of the neuropsychological examination was not an appealable collateral order as of right under Rule 313 and, consequently, the Superior Court erred in considering Appellants’ appeal. As a result, the Supreme Court did not reach the merits of the underlying issues on which allocator was granted; rather, the order of the Superior Court was vacated, the present appeal was quashed as an unauthorized interlocutory appeal, and the matter was remanded to the Court of Common Pleas for further proceedings. View "Shearer v. Hafer" on Justia Law

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In an appeal by allowance, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the Superior Court applied the correct statute of limitations for a survival action in a medical professional liability case. In 2005, Elise Dubose was admitted to Albert Einstein Medical Center (Einstein) after she fell in her home and sustained severe head injuries, including anoxia and a brain injury. She was transferred to Willowcrest Nursing Home where Mrs. Dubose suffered malnourishment, dehydration, conscious pain from bedsores, a bone infection, and a sepsis systemic infection. An ulcers located at the sacral region of the spine which Mrs. Dubose developed during her initial hospitalization, gradually increased in size. The sacral ulcer became infected with bacteria from contact with feces. This infection caused sepsis in Mrs. Dubose in September 2007, and she was admitted to Einstein with sepsis. On October 18, 2007, Mrs. Dubose died from sepsis and multiple pressure sores. On August 13, 2009, Robert Dubose, as administrator for Mrs. Dubose's estate, filed a complaint against Willowcrest and Albert Einstein Healthcare Network (collectively Appellants) sounding in negligence and alleged wrongful death. The Supreme Court concluded the statute of limitations for medical professional liability cases in the form of wrongful death or survival actions was two years from the time of the decedent’s death. View "Dubose v. Willowcrest Nur. Home" on Justia Law

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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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A representative of Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc., d/b/a Havencrest Nursing Center (Extendicare), executed an arbitration agreement with Anna Marie Taylor (“Decedent”) requiring the arbitration of claims arising from Decedent’s stay at the Extendicare facility. Following Decedent’s death, Daniel and William Taylor (“the Taylors”) brought wrongful death claims on behalf of themselves as wrongful death beneficiaries and survival claims on behalf of Decedent’s estate against Extendicare and two other defendants. Extendicare moved to bifurcate the wrongful death and survival actions, and to compel arbitration of Decedent’s survival claim pursuant to the arbitration agreement and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The trial court relied upon Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 213(e) to deny Extendicare’s motion to bifurcate, and the Superior Court affirmed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the FAA preempted the lower courts’ application of Rule 213(e) under the facts presented. Upon review, the Court concluded that the FAA preempted the application of Rule 213(e), and required arbitration of the survival claim against Extendicare. The Court therefore reversed the Superior Court, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities, Inc." on Justia Law

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A special complement of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania assembled to address multiple issues raised in this appeal. The underlying civil action was a defamation case arising out of a newspaper column written by defendant-appellee Karen Heller, and published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in November 2009. The column contained negative commentary about purported actions of plaintiff-appellant John Dougherty, who was the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and a self-described public figure and a participant in numerous civic and philanthropic activities. When confronted with information demonstrating that the commentary concerning Appellant’s conduct was false, Appellee conceded the unfoundedness and publicly apologized. The misinformation, however, appeared on Appellee’s Facebook page for an indeterminate period of time after the apology and apparently remained available through third-party sources until several years later. Appellant’s attorneys expressed concern that video footage resulting from the deposition should not be displayed for any purpose beyond the litigation. Appellee’s attorney, for her part, repeatedly indicated that she intended to use the videotape solely for purposes of the litigation, and that she would abide by all of her obligations under the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Professional Conduct. She declined, however, to make a specific commitment that was asked of her by appellant's counsel. Appellee’s attorney then suggested an arrangement whereby the videotape deposition would proceed as planned, and she would agree not to give the tape to anyone for ten days, during which time Appellant could seek a protective order or other relief from the court. Appellant’s lawyers declined this proposal. The court of common pleas entered an order granting Appellee’s motion to compel and denying Appellant’s motion for protective relief. The court directed Appellant to appear for a videotape deposition within fifteen days. Although the court believed that the potential abuse of a videotape deposition was separable from the merits, it did not accept that the issue was so important as to justify as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. A divided en banc Superior Court affirmed. The issues raised by this appeal for the Supreme Court's review centered on a threshold objection to temporary judicial assignments to the Supreme Court and a challenge to a supplanted order that previously had dismissed the appeal. In addition, a jurisdictional question was raised concerning whether a common pleas court’s denial of a motion for a protective order of the videotaped deposition constituted a collateral order subject to as-of-right interlocutory appellate review. Finally, on the merits, the appeal of the common pleas court’s refusal to issue a protective order proscribing such dissemination. The application for relief challenging temporary judicial assignments made to the Supreme Court for purposes of resolving this appeal was denied. The Superior Court's order was vacated, this appeal quashed as an unauthorized interlocutory one, and the matter was remanded to the common pleas court. View "Dougherty v. Heller" on Justia Law