Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Mader v. Duquesne Light
In September 2012, Steven Mader was working on a project involving repairs to a chimney, fireplace, and front stoop of a home in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After Mader completed the project and his crew was cleaning the premises, his customer asked if he would check the gutters of the home to see if any mortar from the chimney repair had washed into the gutters during a recent rainstorm. Mader, after checking the gutters, was returning to his truck with the ladder. Mader had not noticed that there was an electrical power line only 11 feet from the customer’s home. The top of the ladder made contact with the power line and 13,000 volts of electricity ran down the ladder and through Mader’s body. Mader survived, but had sustained significant injuries to his feet and arms. Mader was eventually able to return to work, but closed his business for good following his final surgery. In April 2013, Mader sued Appellee Duquesne Light Company, the owner of the power line the ladder came into contact with, in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Mader alleged that Duquesne Light’s negligence in maintaining the electric lines too close to the ground caused his injuries and that Duquesne Light acted with reckless indifference to his safety; he also sought punitive damages. At the conclusion of a trial by jury, Duquesne Light was found to be 60% negligent and Mader was found to be 40% negligent for his injuries. Mader filed a motion for post-trial relief requesting a new trial on the issue of damages. Duquesne Light acknowledged that Mader was entitled to a new trial on damages for pain and suffering until the date his wounds healed, and disfigurement. It denied, however, that Mader was entitled to a new trial on future noneconomic damages or either past or future lost earnings. Nevertheless, the trial court granted Mader’s request for a new trial on all damages. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the superior court that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial on all damages. View "Mader v. Duquesne Light" on Justia Law
McMichael v. McMichael
The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's consideration in this matter was whether a trial court abused its discretion in denying a motion for a new trial following a jury award of zero dollars in damages in a wrongful death action. Peter McMichael and his wife, Janice McMichael, entered into a lease with MarkWest Energy Partners, LP, whereby MarkWest was to install a natural gas pipeline on the McMichaels’ property in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. The lease required MarkWest to hire P&J Construction and Landscaping Nursery, LLC (owned by the McMichaels) to perform the tree clearing on the property in preparation for the installation of the pipeline. P&J hired Peter's 51-year-old nephew, Seth McMichael (“Decedent”); Decedent’s son, David; and another individual, Michael Hudak, all of whom were familiar with the process of tree removal, to assist in clearing the trees on the property. In January 2013, while Peter was supervising the tree clearing process, he used a bulldozer to clear an access road. As a result, Peter would periodically turn his back to the tree cutters. At a time when Peter’s back was turned, a tree cut by Hudak split and fell towards Decedent, striking him from behind and killing him. The Decedent's widow and executrix of his estate, Tina, filed a wrongful death and survival action on behalf of herself, and the Decedent's estate, against Peter, Janice McMichael, and MarkWest. The jury awarded Wife, as executrix of Decedent’s estate, $225,000 in survival damages, reduced to $135,000 to reflect the jury’s finding that Decedent was 40% negligent, and, pertinent here, zero dollars in wrongful death damages. Explaining that it found “no evidence of unfairness, mistake, partiality, prejudice, corruption or the like that requires disregarding the jury’s rejection of the claim for non-economic damages,” the court denied Wife’s motion for a new trial. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in denying a new trial with respect to the non-economic damages award. The matter was remanded for a new trial, limited to the non-economic damages issue. View "McMichael v. McMichael" on Justia Law
Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., et al
Appellee-Plaintiff Patricia Hammons (“Hammons”) was an Indiana resident who suffered significant injuries following the May 2009 implantation in Indiana of Appellant-Defendant Ethicon, Inc.’s Prolift Kit, a medical device used to treat “medical conditions in the female pelvis, primarily pelvic organ prolapse and/or stress urinary incontinence.” She received treatment in Indiana and Kentucky. All parties agreed the mesh was the only aspect of the Prolift Kit produced in Pennsylvania. Ethicon contracted with Secant Medical, Inc., a Bucks County manufacturer, to weave the mesh according to Ethicon’s specifications from Ethicon’s proprietary polypropylene filament. Hammons filed a complaint in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Ethicon, Johnson & Johnson, Gynecare, and Secant, asserting various claims related to the implanted device. Ethicon was a wholly-owned subsidiary of co-defendant Johnson & Johnson, both of which were headquartered and incorporated in New Jersey (jointly “Ethicon”). After initially being removed to federal court based on Ethicon’s claim of diversity jurisdiction, the case was eventually remanded to the Pennsylvania court, where it was transferred to the Complex Litigation Center Pelvic Mesh Mass Tort Program. Relevant to Hammons’ claim, Plaintiffs alleged that Ethicon “designed, manufactured, packaged, labeled, marketed, sold, and distributed” the Prolift Kit. Plaintiffs named Secant as a defendant, claiming that it “designed, tested, inspected, wove, knitted, cut, treated, packaged, manufactured, marketed, and/or sold a mesh made from polypropylene and/or other synthetically derived filaments that was the actual mesh utilized” in Ethicon’s Prolift Kits. This case presented a challenge to the exercise of specific personal jurisdiction in Pennsylvania over New Jersey corporate defendants, to a case filed by an Indiana resident. After reviewing recent decisions from the United States Supreme Court revising its personal jurisdiction jurisprudence, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the imposition of personal jurisdiction in this case met the relevant constitutional and statutory requirements, and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., et al" on Justia Law
Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al.
On October 25, 2011, Appellant Nicole B.’s then-eight-year-old son N.B. was sexually assaulted by three of his male fourth-grade classmates in a bathroom at his public elementary school in the City of Philadelphia. According to Appellant, N.B. had endured two months of pervasive physical and verbal harassment at school leading up to the sexual assault. During that time, both Appellant and N.B. reported the harassment to his teacher and to school administrators, to no avail. In November 2011, Appellant withdrew N.B. from the elementary school after learning of the attack. Over two years later, in 2014, Appellant filed an administrative complaint with the Human Relations Commission against the Philadelphia School District (“District”) in her individual capacity and on N.B.’s behalf, asserting claims of discrimination on the basis of gender and race under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”). The Human Relations Commission rejected Appellant’s complaint as untimely, because it was filed beyond the 180-day time limit. In this appeal by allowance, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered whether principles of equitable tolling found in PHRA, or Pennsylvania’s Minority Tolling Statute (“Minority Tolling Statute”), applied to an otherwise untimely complaint. After review, the Supreme Court found the PHRA’s equitable tolling provision applied to a minor whose parent failed to satisfy the applicable statute of limitations for filing an administrative complaint prior to the minor reaching the age of majority. By this finding, the Court reversed the order of the Commonwealth Court. View "Nicole B. v. Philadelphia Sch. Dist., et al." on Justia Law
Walsh v. BASF Corporation et al.
Appellants, the manufacturers of various pesticides, appealed a Superior Court decision reversing the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in their favor following the trial court’s determination that the testimony of the experts proffered by Appellee, the Executor of the Estate of Thomas J. Walsh, failed to satisfy the test set forth in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). For nearly forty years, Walsh served as a groundskeeper and golf course superintendent at several Pittsburgh area golf courses. His work involved the regular application of various pesticides (primarily insecticides and fungicides) on the golf courses. Over this time, Walsh kept a detailed record of his activities regarding the pesticides he used, including a detailed log of the specific products and the dates of their applications. In 2008, Walsh was suffering from fever, chills, and a cough when he arrived at an emergency room. A bone marrow biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (“AML”). Cytogenetic testing revealed significant chromosomal aberrations. On February 2, 2009, Walsh died. His treating oncologist, James Rossetti, D.O., later opined that Walsh’s extensive exposure to pesticides raised a high degree of suspicion that said exposure played a significant role in the development of his AML. After review, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s ruling, but gave instructions that on remand to the trial court, the Appellants should be given the opportunity to renew their Frye motions. View "Walsh v. BASF Corporation et al." on Justia Law
Maas v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr.
A mental health patient lived in a forty-unit apartment building and repeatedly told his doctors and therapists he would kill an unnamed “neighbor.” He ultimately carried out his threat, killing an individual who lived in his building, a few doors away from his own apartment. In subsequent wrongful death litigation filed by the victim’s mother, the providers argued they had no duty to warn anyone about their patient’s threats because he never expressly identified a specific victim. The trial court rejected this argument and denied the providers’ motion for summary judgment, allowing the case to proceed to trial. On appeal, the Superior Court agreed, and finding no reversible error, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. View "Maas v. Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr." on Justia Law
Temple v. Providence Care Center
In 2008, Elma Betty Temple (“Elma”), who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, became a resident of Providence Care Center, a nursing home located in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Providence Care Center, LLC (“Providence”) owned and operated the facility, while Grane Healthcare Company (“Grane”) provided management services. In November 2011, Elma, then aged 81, fell while walking on a ramp. She suffered a fracture in her right humerus, a fracture in her right pelvis, and a laceration to her right elbow. Providence apparently was not supervising Elma at the time; the only witness to the incident, a hospice chaplain, was not a designated caregiver. In 2012, Emla's son, James Temple (“Temple”), filed a complaint on Elma’s behalf against Providence and Grane, alleging negligence and corporate negligence, and sought punitive damages. Temple alleged that Providence should have known that Elma required supervision, because of two previous falls in 2011. Temple further claimed that the facility was understaffed, and that Providence failed to provide needed safety measures. In this case, a panel of the superior court concluded that, even though Providence had waived its opportunity to ask for a mistrial, the trial court nonetheless possessed and invoked its inherent authority to grant a new trial sua sponte for the same reasons that Providence raised in its post-trial motions. In so ruling, the superior court affirmed the trial court’s grant of a new trial. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized that a trial court possesses "the very limited and restrained authority to halt proceedings and compel them to begin anew based upon that unpreserved error. But in such a circumstance, a trial court may only use its sua sponte authority to grant a new trial where 'exceedingly clear error' results in 'manifest injustice,' of a constitutional or structural nature." Because Providence did not preserve its request for a mistrial and because the trial court did not grant, and could not have granted, a new trial sua sponte based upon the unpreserved request for a mistrial, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court’s order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Temple v. Providence Care Center" on Justia Law
Trigg v. Children’s Hospital of Pgh.
Appellee Mendy Trigg was the parent of J.T., who, in 2011, was age 4 and afflicted with craniosynostosis. In 2011, J.T. underwent surgery at the Hospital to correct this condition. Afterward, J.T. was transferred for post- operative care to one of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh's (“Hospital”) intensive care units. While recovering there, J.T. fell out of the hospital bed, and, as a result, suffered damage to the surgically repaired cranial area, necessitating immediate ameliorative surgery. Subsequently, Appellees filed suit against the Hospital alleging, inter alia, that the Hospital was negligent in placing J.T. in a regular adult size hospital bed, due to the large spaces between the vertical side rails, which they alleged, enabled J.T.'s fall. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepted review of this case to consider whether Appellees' argument that the trial court erred by not personally observing the demeanor of prospective jurors they challenged for-cause during voir dire. After careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded Appellees waived their argument for appellate review, and, thus, that the Superior Court erred in considering it. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Superior Court judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Trigg v. Children's Hospital of Pgh." on Justia Law
Erie Ins. v. Moore, et al
At issue in this appeal was whether the alleged conduct of an insured, Harold McCutcheon, Jr. (McCutcheon), as described in a personal injury lawsuit filed against his estate by Richard Carly, obligated McCutcheon’s insurer, appellant Erie Insurance Exchange (Erie) to defend the estate against Carly’s complaint. In 2013, McCutcheon broke into the home of his ex-wife, Terry McCutcheon, in order to shoot and kill her, and then kill himself. He communicated these intentions in a note he left for his adult children. McCutcheon succeeded in executing this plan, first shooting and killing Terry and, eventually, shooting and killing himself. However, after McCutcheon killed Terry but before he killed himself, Carly arrived on the scene. Carly, who had been dating Terry, approached the front door of her home, rang the doorbell and received no answer. Carly became concerned, placed his hand on the doorknob “in order to enter and the door was suddenly pulled inward by [McCutcheon] who grabbed [Carly] by his shirt and pulled him into the home.” McCutcheon was “screaming, swearing, incoherent, and acting ‘crazy.’” Then, “a fight ensued between the two and at the time, [McCutcheon] continued to have the gun in his hand” which he apparently had used to kill Terry. During this “struggle” between the two men, McCutcheon was “knocking things around, and in the process [he] negligently, carelessly, and recklessly caused the weapon to be fired which struck [Carly] in the face,” causing severe injuries. In addition, “other shots were carelessly, negligently and recklessly fired” by McCutcheon, “striking various parts of the interior of the residence and exiting therefrom.” Carly filed suit against McCutcheon’s estate, and the estate — administered by McCutcheon’s adult children — sought coverage of the lawsuit under two insurance policies issued by Erie to McCutcheon: the Erie Insurance Home Protector Policy (homeowner’s policy) and the Erie Insurance Personal Catastrophe Liability Policy (personal catastrophe policy). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held Carly’s allegations were sufficient to trigger Erie’s duty to defend, and accordingly, affirmed the superior court's order. View "Erie Ins. v. Moore, et al" on Justia Law
Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s review centered on the scope and application of the qualified immunity provided under Section 114 of the Mental Health Procedures Act (MHPA), 50 P.S. sections 7101-7503. On November 20, 2012, twenty-three year-old Andrew Johnson (Andrew) voluntarily admitted himself to Bowling Green-Brandywine Addiction Treatment Center (Brandywine). Andrew sought drug rehabilitation treatment for his addiction to opiates (OxyContin) and benzodiazepines (Xanax), which were first prescribed to him two years earlier for pain and anxiety related to back injuries arising from an ATV accident. He was accompanied by his mother, appellant Melissa Dean, and reported his health history to Brandywine staff. Appellee Mohammad Ali Khan, M.D., a physician at Brandywine, took Andrew’s medical history and performed a physical exam. At approximately 8:15 in the evening of November 28, 2012, the nursing staff informed Khan of Andrew’s elevated vital signs, but Khan declined to examine Andrew, did not issue any new treatment orders, and instructed the nursing staff not to transfer Andrew to the emergency room. The nursing staff again checked Andrew every few hours, noting his vital signs but giving no additional treatment. At approximately 7:50 a.m. the next morning, Andrew was found lying on the floor of his room, face down, without a pulse. He was transferred to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead. Andrew’s parents, appellant Dean and Clifton Johnson, as administrators of Andrew’s estate and in their individual capacities, filed suit against Brandywine, Dr. Kahn, and others who treated Andrew, raising medical malpractice, wrongful death and survival claims. Specifically, appellants alleged Andrew died of a cardiac arrhythmia due to the combination of medications prescribed during treatment at Brandywine, and that his death was the result of medical negligence including the failure to properly examine, diagnose, appreciate, and treat his medical condition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in affirming entry of a compulsory nonsuit and held immunity did not apply under circumstances where: (1) the patient was admitted for and primarily received drug detoxification treatment; and (2) the patient did not receive treatment to facilitate recovery from a mental illness. Consequently, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Dean v. Bowling Green-Brandywine" on Justia Law