Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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This appeal involved an airline employee who was injured while riding an airport shuttle bus to an employee parking lot after her shift ended. The question before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the employee’s injury can be said to have occurred on the airline’s premises for purposes of the Workers’ Compensation Act even though the City of Philadelphia owned both the shuttle bus and the employee parking lot. The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court, Appeal Board, and WCJ correctly concluded that the lot in which the employee parked her vehicle was integral to the company’s business operations. The employee used the airport parking lot and shuttle service to enter and exit her workplace. As part of the airline’s business relationship with the airport, it clearly was aware that the Division of Aviation would make employee parking available to the airline’s employees. “Indeed, the evidence presented to the WCJ suggests that, had the Division not done so, US Airways would have been obligated under its collective bargaining agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants to reimburse flight attendants like Bockelman for the cost of airport parking.” View "US Airways, et al. v. WCAB (Bockelman)" on Justia Law

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This matter came from two separate lawsuits commenced in the Pennsylvania courts of common pleas which were subsequently removed to federal district courts on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and thereafter consolidated for disposition by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Appellee William Scott was covered by an automobile insurance policy issued by Appellant Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Appellee Samantha Sayles was covered by an automobile policy issued by Appellant Allstate Insurance Company. Allstate’s policy contained a clause, similar to the one in Scott’s policy, providing that, in order to receive first-party medical benefits, the insured had to submit to mental and physical examinations by physicians selected by the insurance company at the company’s behest before medical benefits were paid. Both appellees were injured in separate car accidents, and their respective insurance companies refused to pay their medical bills. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit certified a question of Pennsylvania law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Does an automobile insurance policy provision, which required an insured seeking first-party medical benefits under the policy to submit to an independent medical exam whenever the insurer requires and with a doctor selected by the insurer, conflict with 75 Pa.C.S. Section 1796(a) of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”), such that the requirement was void as against public policy? After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the provision indeed conflicted with Section 1796(a), and was void as against public policy. View "Sayles. v. Allstate Ins Co." on Justia Law

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Appellants Jonathan Saksek and Joshua Winter challenged a superior court decision to affirm summary judgment in favor of Appellees Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Johnson & Johnson Company, and Janssen Research and Development, LLC (collectively, “Janssen”). Saksek and Winter were two of a large number of men who filed suit against Janssen, alleging that they developed gynecomastia as a result of their ingestion of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug manufactured by Janssen. In 2014, Janssen filed two motions for summary judgment, which were nominally directed at Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, but had language affecting all Risperdal plaintiffs: the companies sought a global ruling that all claims accrued for statute of limitations purposes no later than October 31, 2006, when Janssen changed the Risperdal label to reflect a greater association between gynecomastia and Risperdal. The trial court ruled that all Risperdal-gynecomastia claims accrued no later June 31, 2009. The superior court disagreed, ruling that all such claims accrued no later than Janssen’s preferred date (October 31, 2006). Concluding that the superior court erred in granting summary judgment at all in Saksek’s and Winter’s cases, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated its decision and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "In Re: Risperdal Litig." on Justia Law