Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal in this matter to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in holding that the involuntary movement of a vehicle did not constitute operation of a motor vehicle for purposes of the vehicle liability exception to governmental immunity under 42 Pa.C.S. 8542(b)(1). Appellant Victoria Balentine was the widow of Edwin Omar Medina-Flores, a contractor for Metra Industries (Metra), which was hired by the Chester Water Authority (CWA) to rehabilitate a section of its water distribution system. Medina-Flores was inside a four-foot by four-foot ditch located on the grassy strip between the sidewalk and the curb on the southbound side of the road, when Charles Mathues, an inspector for CWA, approached the worksite in a southerly direction and parked his CWA vehicle, with the engine running, 10 to 15 feet from the ditch. Mathues activated the four-way flashers and the amber strobe light on the roof of the vehicle, which he then exited. He walked to the front of the vehicle where he laid some blueprints on the hood. Approximately five minutes later, a vehicle owned by Michael Roland and driven by Wyatt Roland struck the rear of the CWA vehicle, causing it to move forward. Mathues was rolled up onto the hood and thrown into the roadway. The right front bumper of the CWA vehicle then struck Medina-Flores as he stood in the ditch. The undercarriage dragged him out of the ditch, pinning Medina-Flores under the vehicle when it came to a stop. Medina-Flores died as a result of the injuries he sustained. Mathues was also injured in the accident. The Supreme Court determined movement of a vehicle, whether voluntary or involuntary, was not required by the statutory language of the vehicle liability exception, and reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court, thereby allowing this matter to proceed in the trial court. View "Balentine v. Chester Water Auth, et al" on Justia Law

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In a negligence case, Helen Jones sought recovery for injuries sustained when a vehicle driven by Ron Ott rear-ended Jones’ car while Ott was working for Eastern Elevator Service and Sales Company. Prior to trial, Jones filed proposed points for charge with the prothonotary. Of particular relevance here, Jones filed three proposed instructions related to negligence per se. After trial had commenced, but before the case went to the jury, the trial court held a charge conference. Ultimately, the trial court’s charge to the jury did not include an instruction concerning negligence per se. Notably, after charging the jurors, the trial court asked counsel whether there was anything with respect to the charge that either party wanted to put on the record. Jones’ lawyer responded: “I have no issues with the charge, Your Honor.” The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ott. Jones filed a post-trial motion contending that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury as to negligence per se. Ott responded that Jones had waived her jury-charge challenge by failing to lodge a timely objection at trial. Jones replied that she had preserved her claim by docketing written proposed points for charge and raising the issue in a post-trial motion. The trial court denied Jones’ motion, and Jones appealed to the Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case in order to clarify the methods by which one may preserve a challenge to a trial court’s jury instructions in accordance with Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1. Because Jones failed to lodge a contemporaneous objection to the trial court’s instructions at trial or to interpose any objection when invited by the trial court to do so, her challenge was deemed waived. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court. View "Jones v Ott" on Justia Law

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Fu Xiang Lin began performing remodeling work for Eastern Taste, a restaurant that had not yet opened for business. Lin and three other individuals were hired by Lin’s sister-in-law, Sai Zheng Zheng, who was the owner of Eastern Taste. They did not sign a written contract, but Lin was to be paid for his services on a per diem basis. Lin had worked in remodeling for fifteen years, and he was the most experienced individual involved in the project. Although Wang purchased the materials necessary for the project, Lin brought and used his own tools. Lin was hired only to complete the remodeling work. While repairing a chimney, Lin fell from a beam and landed on a cement floor, suffering serious injuries. In addition to numerous bone fractures, the impact caused trauma to Lin’s spinal cord, rendering him paraplegic. Lin filed a workers’ compensation claim petition against Eastern Taste. Because Eastern Taste did not maintain workers’ compensation insurance, Lin additionally filed a petition for benefits from the Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (the “Fund”). Both Eastern Taste and the Fund filed answers denying, inter alia, the existence of an employment relationship. In this appeal, the issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether, pursuant to the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act (“CWMA” or “the Act”), Lin was eligible for compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The Commonwealth Court determined that the CWMA was inapplicable under these circumstances, that the claimant otherwise failed to establish that he was an employee of the restaurant, and that he accordingly was ineligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Finding no error, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Dept. of Labor & Industry v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) makes an employer liable for paying the disability benefits and medical expenses of an employee who sustains an injury in the course of his or her employment. In January 1993, Craig Whitmoyer suffered a work-related injury that resulted in the amputation of part of his arm. Starting at that time, his employer, Mountain Country Meats (“MCM”), or MCM’s insurance carrier, Selective Insurance (“Selective”), paid all of Whitmoyer’s medical expenses related to this injury. A few months later, the parties reached an agreement related to Whitmoyer’s disability benefits – he was entitled “to a 20 week healing period and 370 weeks of specific loss benefits [at $237.50 per week after May 22, 1993].” Whitmoyer subsequently petitioned for a commutation of these weekly payments. In December 1994, the Workers’ Compensation Judge (“WCJ”) granted his petition and directed MCM or Selective to pay Whitmoyer a lump sum payment of $69,994.64. While this commutation resolved his entitlement to disability benefits entirely, MCM remained responsible for Whitmoyer’s ongoing medical bills. Several years later, Whitmoyer obtained a $300,000 settlement from third parties related to his injury and, in April 1999, he entered a third-party settlement agreement (the “TPSA”) with Selective providing that as to past-paid compensation, Selective was entitled to a net subrogation lien of $81,627.87. Selective continued to pay Whitmoyer’s work-related medical expenses in full (without taking credit under the TPSA) for approximately thirteen years, until September 2012. At that time, Selective filed a modification petition requesting an adjustment to the TPSA to reflect the medical expenses incurred since the parties entered the agreement. The WCJ found, per the parties’ stipulation, that Selective had paid $206,670.88 for Whitmoyer’s work injury as of February 2013.The WCJ ordered that Selective’s percentage credit be reduced to 26.09% of future medical expenses, up to Whitmoyer’s balance of recovery amount of $189,416.27. Whitmoyer appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (the “Board”), arguing that the TPSA was unenforceable because neither he nor his counsel had signed it. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether the Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that the term “instalments of compensation” in section 319 of the WCA encompassed both disability benefits and payment of medical expenses. Under the WCA, disability benefits were required to be paid “in periodical installments, as the wages of the employee were payable before the injury.” Medical expenses are not. Accordingly, when a workers’ compensation claimant recovers proceeds from a third-party settlement (following repayment of compensation paid to date) as prescribed by section 319, the employer (or insurance carrier) is limited to drawing down against that recovery only to the extent that future disability benefits are payable to the claimant. The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Whitmoyer v. Workers' Compensation App. Bd." on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to determine whether and to what extent a hospital and a health care staffing agency have a legal duty to prevent a terminated employee from causing harm to patients at another health care facility. Plaintiffs claimed David Kwiatkowski, a radiology technician formerly employed at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital (“UPMC”), who was placed there by staffing agency Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc. (“Maxim”), engaged in the diversion and substitution of intravenous fentanyl. Specifically, Kwiatkowski injected himself with fentanyl from a preloaded syringe, refilled the syringe with saline or another substance, and then replaced the now-contaminated syringe where it could be used by others to inject patients. In doing so years later at a Kansas hospital, Kwiatkowski allegedly communicated hepatitis C to Plaintiffs, who were patients at that hospital. Pursuant to federal regulation, UPMC (but not Maxim) indisputably had a legal obligation to report the diversion of controlled substances to the United States Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”). UPMC failed to do so. The Superior Court determined that Plaintiffs established that both UPMC and Maxim (collectively, “Defendants”) had a duty to report Kwiatkowski’s misconduct to the DEA and to “law enforcement,” and that Defendants’ failure to do so could have provided a basis for negligence claims. The Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling with respect to UPMC, and reversed the Superior Court’s ruling to the extent it imposed the same duty upon Maxim. View "Walters v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law

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In this discretionary appeal, we consider whether Appellant, the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”), is entitled to subrogation of benefits that a trooper – who was injured in a motor vehicle accident – was eligible to receive under the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) against the trooper’s recovery from a third-party tortfeasor pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In 2011, Pennsylvania State Trooper Joseph Bushta (“Claimant”) was on duty when his police vehicle was hit by a tractor-trailer. As a result of the collision, Claimant suffered various cervical, thoracic, and lumbar injuries which required medical treatment and physical therapy, and which resulted in Claimant’s inability to perform his job duties for approximately 16 months. PSP, a self-insured public employer, issued a notice of compensation payable (“NCP”) indicating a weekly compensation rate of $858.08 under the WCA. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that all of the benefits Claimant received were Heart and Lung benefits, not WCA benefits. Thus, pursuant to the MVFRL, PSP does not have a right of subrogation against Claimant’s settlement with the third-party tortfeasors. View "Penn. State Police v. WCAB (Bushta)" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice action, Monongahela Valley Hospital (“MVH”) contracted with UPMC Emergency Medicine, Inc. (“ERMI”) to provide staffing and administrative services for its emergency room. Both MVH and ERMI claimed the statutory evidentiary privilege in the Pennsylvania Peer Review Protection Act, 63 P.S. secs. 425.1-425.4 (PRPA) protected from disclosure the performance file of Marcellus Boggs, M.D. (“Dr. Boggs”) that had been prepared and maintained by Brenda Walther, M.D. (“Dr. Walther”), who served as the director of MVH’s emergency department and was Dr. Boggs’ supervisor. Dr. Boggs and Dr. Walther were employees of ERMI. In January 2011, Eleanor Reginelli was transported by ambulance to MVH’s emergency department with what she reported at the time to be gastric discomfort. She was treated by Dr. Boggs. Mrs. Reginelli and her husband, Orlando Reginelli, alleged Dr. Boggs failed to diagnose an emergent, underlying heart problem and discharged her without proper treatment. Several days later, Mrs. Reginelli suffered a heart attack. In 2012, the Reginellis filed an amended complaint containing four counts sounding in negligence. The Reginellis deposed, inter alia, Dr. Boggs and Dr. Walther. At her deposition, Dr. Walther testified that she prepared and maintained a “performance file” on Dr. Boggs as part of her regular practice of reviewing randomly selected charts associated with patients treated by Dr. Boggs (and other ERMI-employed emergency department physicians). In response, the Reginellis filed discovery requests directed to MVH requesting, among other things, “the complete ‘performance file’ for [Dr. Boggs] maintained by [Dr. Walther.]” MVH objected to production of the performance file, asserting that it was privileged by, inter alia, the PRPA. Under the facts presented in this case and the applicable statutory language of the PRPA, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined neither ERMI nor MVH could claim the evidentiary privilege: ERMI was not a “professional health care provider” under the PRPA, and the performance file at issue here was not generated or maintained by MVH’s peer review committee. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Superior Court to uphold the trial court’s ruling that PRPA’s evidentiary privilege had no application in this case. View "Reginelli v. Boggs" on Justia Law

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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