Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)
In 2011, during the course and scope of his employment as a shipwright, Claimant Robert Arlet slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk on the premises of his employer, Flagship Niagara League (Employer), sustaining injuries. Employer had obtained a Commercial Hull Policy from Acadia Insurance Company (Insurer). Through the policy, Insurer provided coverage for damages caused by the Brig Niagara and for Jones Act protection and indemnity coverage for the “seventeen (17) crewmembers” of the Brig Niagara. Employer had also at some point obtained workers’ compensation insurance from the State Workers’ Insurance Fund (SWIF). Insurer paid benefits to Claimant under its Commercial Hull Policy’s “maintenance and cure” provision. Claimant filed for workers’ compensation benefits. Employer asserted Claimant’s remedy was exclusively governed by the Jones Act. Employer also filed to join SWIF as an additional insurer in the event the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA) was deemed to supply the applicable exclusive remedy, and Employer was found to be liable thereunder. SWIF denied coverage, alleging Employer’s policy was lapsed at the time of Claimant’s injury. Thereafter, Claimant filed an Uninsured Employers Guaranty Fund (UEGF) claim petition, asserting the fund’s liability in the event he prevailed, and Employer was deemed uncovered by SWIF and failed to pay. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) found that as a land-based employee, Claimant did not meet the definition of seaman under the Jones Act and was, therefore, entitled to pursue his workers’ compensation claim. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was one of first impression: the right of an insurer to subrogation under the WCA. The Supreme Court concluded Insurer’s Commercial Hull Policy did not cover Claimant, because Claimant was not a “seaman” or crew member. The WCA’s exclusive remedy applied, but Insurer was seeking subrogation for payment it made on a loss it did not cover. "[T]he 'no-coverage exception' to the general equitable rule precluding an insurer from pursuing subrogation against its insured comports with the purposes and public policy supporting the rule and hereby adopt it as the law of this Commonwealth. ... any equitable rule precluding an insurer from seeking subrogation against its insured is best tempered by the exception adopted herein today." View "Arlet v. WCAB (L&I)" on Justia Law
Lageman v. Zepp, et al.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case to clarify whether resort to the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur was precluded when the plaintiff introduced enough “direct” evidence that the Doctrine was not the only avenue to a finding of liability - whether the two approaches to satisfying the plaintiff’s evidentiary burden were mutually exclusive. The Superior Court held that they were not exclusive. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court correctly vacated the trial court's refusal to charge the jury on res ipsa loquitur, and remanded for a new trial. View "Lageman v. Zepp, et al." on Justia Law
Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway
A Virginia resident filed an action in Pennsylvania against a Virginia corporation, alleging injuries in Virginia and Ohio. The plaintiff asserted that Pennsylvania courts had general personal jurisdiction over the case based exclusively upon the foreign corporation’s registration to do business in the Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that Pennsylvania's statutory scheme violated due process to the extent that it allowed for general jurisdiction over foreign corporations, absent affiliations within the state that were so continuous and systematic as to render the foreign corporation essentially at home in Pennsylvania. The Court further agreed that compliance with Pennsylvania’s mandatory registration requirement did not constitute voluntary consent to general personal jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s order, which sustained the foreign corporation’s preliminary objections and dismissed the action with prejudice for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway" on Justia Law
Estate of Bisher v. Lehigh Vly Health Net.
Following the death of their twenty-five-year-old son Cory Bisher (“Cory”), Brenton and Carla Bisher filed suit, without representation by counsel, against eleven defendants comprising both named individuals and corporate entities alleging their medical malpractice resulting in Cory’s death. Each parent brought their own wrongful death claims, and Carla filed a survival action on behalf of Cory’s estate (“Estate”). Following protracted proceedings, the trial court struck the amended complaint with prejudice because of defects in the Certificates of Merit mandated by Rule of Civil Procedure 1042.3 in professional liability suits against licensed professionals. On appeal, the Superior Court sua sponte determined that the Bishers committed two errors that jointly deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction over all claims: Carla’s unauthorized practice of law and the lack of verification of the complaint. The panel concluded that it too lacked jurisdiction and quashed the appeal. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that neither the unauthorized practice of law in the trial court, nor the lack of verification identified by the Superior Court, implicated subject-matter jurisdiction, and thus could not be raised sua sponte. The Supreme Court also disagreed with the panel’s alternative holding that the trial court properly struck the amended complaint because of the defects in the Certificates of Merit. Because the unauthorized practice of law issue will be ripe for further litigation on remand, the Supreme Court concluded that pleadings unlawfully filed by non-attorneys were not void ab initio. "Instead, after notice to the offending party and opportunity to cure, the pleadings are voidable in the discretion of the court in which the unauthorized practice of law took place." View "Estate of Bisher v. Lehigh Vly Health Net." on Justia Law
Albert v. Sheeley’s Drug Store, et al.
In late 2015, decedent Cody Albert (“Cody”) and his childhood friend, Zachary Ross (“Zachary”) struggled with substance abuse issues. At that time, Zachary’s mother, April Kravchenko, was suffering from multiple myeloma for which her doctors prescribed her several opiate pain medications, which she filled at a small, independent pharmacy in Scranton called Sheeley’s Drug Store. Kravchenko and her sister Debra Leggieri worried Zachary would try to pick up (and use) Kravchenko’s pain medication from Sheeley’s while Kravchenko was in the hospital. To prevent this, Leggieri called Sheeley’s and placed a restriction on who could pick up Kravchenko’s prescriptions. Zachary called Sheeley’s one day pretending to be his mother, and asked about refilling her OxyContin prescription. Donato Iannielli, owner-pharmacist Lori Hart’s father, and the prior owner of Sheeley’s, was the pharmacist on-duty at the time, and told “Kravchenko” that her OxyContin prescription could not be filled yet, but that she had a prescription for fentanyl patches ready to be picked up. “Kravchenko” told Iannielli that she wanted to send her son to pick up the patches, but stated that he did not have a driver’s license or other form of identification. Iannielli told the caller that this would not be a problem, since he personally knew and would recognize Zachary. Cody then drove Zachary to Sheeley’s, where Zachary picked up Kravchenko’s medication even though, according to Zachary, the pharmacy receipt explicitly stated, “[d]o not give to son.” On the drive back to Zachary’s house, Cody at some point consumed fentanyl from one of the patches, smoked marijuana, and then fell asleep on the once inside the house. Later that night, Zachary tried to wake Cody up, but he was unresponsive. Cody was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Zachary eventually pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and multiple drug offenses in connection with Cody’s overdose. The question in this appeal was whether claims brought against the pharmacy on behalf of the decedent who overdosed on illegally obtained prescription drugs was barred by the doctrine of in pari delicto. Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that the trial court correctly applied the in pari delicto doctrine, judgment was affirmed. View "Albert v. Sheeley's Drug Store, et al." on Justia Law
Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)
Appellant Vincent Lorino worked as an equipment operator for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (“Employer”) when he slipped on the running board of the truck he used for work and fell backwards, injuring his lower back and left hip. Employer accepted liability for a low back sprain/tear and a left hip sprain/tear pursuant to two medical-only notices of compensation payable (“NCP”). In February 2017, Employer referred Appellant for an independent medical examination (“IME”). The IME examiner determined Appellant had fully recovered from his injuries, that any pain Appellant experienced was the result of pre-existing degenerative disc disease, and that Appellant required no further treatment. As a result, Employer filed a petition to terminate Appellant’s treatment. Appellant retained counsel for the hearing on Employer’s termination petition. At the hearing, Appellant testified he had been receiving treatment from Dr. Shivani Dua, who administered epidural steroid injections to alleviate the pain in his back and left hip. Appellant explained that while the steroid injections would alleviate his pain for a few months, the pain would slowly return, at which point he would need to return for additional injections. Appellant indicated he received his most recent injection approximately two to three weeks before the IME. At the conclusion of the hearing, Appellant requested, in addition to continued medical benefits, attorney’s fees pursuant to Section 440 of the Workers' Compensation Act, asserting that, because he received only medical benefits, he was unable to retain the services of an attorney based on a traditional contingent fee arrangement, and instead was required to enter into an hourly-rate fee agreement. At issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was the propriety of the Commonwealth Court’s construction of Section 440 of the Act as precluding an award of attorney’s fees to a claimant when an employer established a reasonable basis for seeking a termination of benefits. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court’s interpretation of Section 440 was contrary to the statute’s express language, and, therefore, reversed in part and remanded. View "Lorino v. WCAB (Commonwealth of PA)" on Justia Law
Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al.
In 2016, Craig Steltz filed a medical malpractice action against Dr. William Meyers, Vincera Core Institute, and Vincera Institute (collectively Appellants). While rehabilitating from surgery, Steltz, a professional football player, felt a pop in his right leg. This led him to return to Dr. Meyers, after team physicians received results from a MRI. At a follow-up appointment, Dr. Meyers also performed an MRI on Steltz, discussed the MRI with Dr. Adam Zoga, a musculoskeletal radiologist, and concluded Steltz had scar tissue breakup, a normal postoperative finding, and not a new injury. However, Dr. Paul Read, a second musculoskeletal radiologist, also independently reviewed the second MRI, and issued a report concluding there was a complete tear of the adductor tendon. Based on these conflicting interpretations of the MRI, Steltz alleged Dr. Meyers was negligent in failing to diagnose and disclose the existence of the tear as reported by Dr. Read. Appellants’ counsel’s first line of questioning to Dr. Zoga on direct examination at trial, asked Dr. Zoga's estimation of how many musculoskeletal radiologists there were in the US, and commented, in his question, that "plaintiff couldn’t find one of them to come into this courtroom to support Dr. Read, did you know that?" Steltz's counsel requested a curative instruction, and moved for a mistrial. The trial court gave the jury a curative instruction and denied the mistrial. Appellants' counsel, in closing, referred back to that line of questioning, asserting Steltz “didn’t bring anybody in to dispute [Dr. Crain and Dr. Zoga] because they can’t.” Steltz’s counsel did not object to any of these statements. Instead, in rebuttal, Steltz’s counsel reiterated that Dr. Read was a board-certified radiologist with a focus in musculoskeletal radiology. The jury returned a verdict for Appellants. Steltz filed a post-trial motion asserting the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because the effect of Appellants’ counsel’s question to Dr. Zoga was so prejudicial that no jury instruction could adequately cure the prejudice. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial based on a single, unanswered question proposed to an expert witness, and that decision alone could not later serve as the basis for granting a new trial. View "Steltz v. Meyers M.D., et al." on Justia Law
Fox v. Smith, et al.
This appeal concerned whether the standards governing the selection of an appropriate venue for litigating libel or defamation claims grounded on newspaper publications should also be applied to causes of action premised on internet-based publication. In November 2017, Appellee Joy Fox appeared on the general-election ballot as the Democratic candidate for mayor of the Borough of Chester Heights in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. She was defeated, however, by the Republican candidate, Appellant Stacey Smith. Appellee subsequently brought a civil action in Philadelphia County against Smith, along with other individuals and Republican-affiliated organizations (collectively, “Appellants”), advancing multiple causes of action including defamation, false light, and civil conspiracy. The complaint alleged, in relevant part, that during the campaign Appellants published information on internet and social media websites falsely accusing Appellee of having been charged, in North Carolina, with criminal conduct. Appellee further averred that the false allegations were also published in campaign flyers and posted on billboards in the Chester Heights locality. Appellee contended that venue was proper in Philadelphia County because Appellants’ website was accessible to – and accessed by – Philadelphia residents. These included one of Appellee’s friends who was identified in the complaint and who had assertedly understood the posted information to be damaging to Appellee’s reputation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the superior court, holding that when a person is defamed via a medium with worldwide accessibility, a cause of action may arise in multiple venues. "Per a straightforward application of the civil procedural rules, then, a plaintiff may select a single venue in a defamation action in any location in which publication and concomitant injury has occurred, albeit that publication and harm may have ensued in multiple counties." View "Fox v. Smith, et al." on Justia Law
Peters v. WCAB
Jonathan Peters (Claimant) was employed by Cintas Corporation (Employer) as a uniform sales representative. In this position Claimant worked half-days in Employer’s Allentown, Pennsylvania branch office on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and traveled the remainder of those days, as well as Thursdays and Fridays, to meet with, and present products to, potential customers in the region around Reading, Pennsylvania. Following his last sales appointment on February 27, 2015, Claimant attended an Employer-sponsored event at a pub in Allentown called the Tilted Kilt. After leaving the event Claimant was injured in a motor vehicle accident. Alleging that the motor vehicle accident occurred during the course of his employment with Employer, Claimant filed a claim petition seeking partial disability benefits from February 28, 2015 to April 2, 2015, and total disability benefits from April 3, 2015 onwards. Employer responded, specifically denying that Claimant was in the course of his employment at the time of the motor vehicle accident. In a November 2016 decision, the WCJ denied and dismissed Claimant’s claim petition. The WCJ explained that for his injuries to be compensable under the Act, Claimant had the burden of demonstrating that he was in the course of his employment with Employer at the time of the motor vehicle accident, which required him to show that he was actually engaged in the furtherance of Employer’s business or affairs at the time of the accident. The WCJ wrote that he did not doubt that work was discussed at the event but that work-related discussions do “not transform every meeting into a business meeting.”Claimant then appealed to the Commonwealth Court, which affirmed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding Claimant remained in the course of his employment through the event at the Tilted Kilt. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Peters v. WCAB" on Justia Law
K.N.B. v. M.D.
The Appellee in this case, K.N.B., was a freshman at Clarion University in 2015. K.N.B. claimed that a fellow Clarion student, M.D., sexually assaulted her in September 2015. K.N.B. initially did not report the assault to the police. Only after seeing M.D. at a Walmart in early 2018 did K.N.B. report the assault to the Clarion University Police Department. By this time, K.N.B. was no longer a student at the University. The main question this appeal presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether a petition seeking a protective order under the Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation Act (“PVSVIA”) was subject to the two-year statute of limitations governing certain enumerated civil actions, or the six-year catch-all statute of limitations that applies to non-enumerated actions. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the six-year limitations period applied, affirming the superior court. View "K.N.B. v. M.D." on Justia Law