Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America
In August 2014, Dairy Farmers of America, Inc. (“DFA”) sponsored a golf outing for its employees at Tanglewood Golf Course in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. As a condition of attendance, DFA required employees to provide a “monetary contribution to offset costs and expenses” associated with the event, which it used to pay for items such as “greens fees, food and alcohol.” One of DFA’s employees, Roger Williams, made the contribution and attended the golf outing. According to Appellant David Klar, DFA had reason to know that Williams was an alcoholic and that he previously had been arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. At the event, Williams’ alcohol consumption was unsupervised, and he drank beyond the point of visible intoxication. Williams departed the golf outing in his car. While driving, Williams encountered Klar, who was operating a motorcycle in the southbound lane. Williams swerved across the center line into Klar’s path. The resulting collision caused Klar to suffer numerous and grievous injuries. Klar sued both Williams and DFA, contending that they were jointly and severally liable for his injuries. This case calls upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to revisit precedents that have prevailed for half a century and that imposed liability upon persons and entities licensed to engage in the commercial sale of alcohol while limiting the liability of non-licensees and “social hosts.” The lower courts applied these precedents to conclude that an organization which hosted an event at which alcohol was provided, but was not a liquor licensee, could not be held liable for injuries caused by a guest who became intoxicated at the event. Finding no basis to disturb the long-settled law of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Klar v. Dairy Farmers of America" on Justia Law
McLaughlin v. Nahata, et al.
During their employment with Dialysis Clinic, Inc. (DCI), the Doctors maintained staff privileges and worked at Washington Hospital. In 2013, Alyssa McLaughlin was admitted to the Hospital and received treatment from, among other medical staff, the Doctors, Kathryn Simons, M.D., Anne F. Josiah, M.D., Thomas Pirosko, D.O., and Ashely Berkley, D.O. At some point during or after that treatment, McLaughlin sustained severe and permanent neurological injuries. Attributing those injuries to negligence in her treatment, McLaughlin and her husband, William McLaughlin (collectively, the McLaughlins), initiated an action against the Doctors, the Hospital, and the other physicians noted above who were responsible for her care. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether, as a matter of law, the Hospital could seek contribution and/or indemnity from DCI for negligence committed by DCI’s employees (the Doctors). The trial and superior courts both concluded that, although traditional principles of contribution and indemnity did not apply cleanly these particular circumstances, equitable principles of law permitted the Hospital to seek both contribution and indemnity from DCI. As a result, the trial court denied DCI’s motion for summary relief, and the superior court affirmed. The Supreme Court was unanimous in finding that, if the Hospital and DCI were determined to be vicariously liable for the negligence of the Doctors, the law permitted the Hospital to seek contribution from DCI. The Court was evenly divided on the question of whether the Hospital could also seek indemnification from DCI. Given the decision on contribution and inability to reach a decision on indemnity, the superior court was affirmed on those questions. View "McLaughlin v. Nahata, et al." on Justia Law
Brown v. Oil City, et al.
By 2011, due to weathering and aging, the condition of the concrete stairs leading to the entrance of the Oil City Library (the “library”) had significantly declined. Oil City contracted with Appellants Harold Best and Struxures, LLC, to develop plans for the reconstruction of the stairs and to oversee the implementation of those design plans. The actual reconstruction work was performed by Appellant Fred Burns, Inc., pursuant to a contract with Oil City (appellants collectively referred to as “Contractors”). Contractors finished performing installation work on the stairs by the end of 2011. In early 2012, Oil City began to receive reports about imperfections in the concrete surface, which also began to degrade. In September 2013, Oil City informed Burns of what it considered to be its defective workmanship in creating the dangerous condition of the stairs. Between February 28, 2012 and November 23, 2015, the condition of the stairs continued to worsen; however, neither Oil City nor Contractors made any efforts to repair the stairs, or to warn the public about their dangerous condition. In 2015, Appellee David Brown (“Brown”) and his wife Kathryn exited the library and began to walk down the concrete stairs. While doing so, Kathryn tripped on one of the deteriorated sections, which caused her to fall and strike her head, suffering a traumatic head injury. Tragically, this injury claimed her life six days later. Brown, in his individual capacity and as the executor of his wife’s estate, commenced a wrongful death suit, asserting negligence claims against Oil City, as owner of the library, as well as Contractors who performed the work on the stairs pursuant to their contract with Oil City. The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether Section 385 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts imposed liability on a contractor to a third party whenever the contractor, during the course of his work for a possessor of land, creates a dangerous condition on the land that injures the third party, even though, at the time of the injury, the contractor was no longer in possession of the land, and the possessor was aware of the dangerous condition. To this, the Court concluded, as did the Commonwealth Court below, that a contractor may be subjected to liability under Section 385 in such circumstances. View "Brown v. Oil City, et al." on Justia Law
Franks, et al. v. State Farm Mutual
Appellants Robert and Kelly Franks sought automobile insurance from Appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in 2013 for their two vehicles. Appellants included underinsured motorist coverage (“UIM”) in their policy but completed a form rejecting stacked UIM coverage in compliance with Section 1738(d)(2) of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). Absent such waiver, stacked coverage would be the default. Appellants removed one of the original vehicles and added a third vehicle to the policy effective 2014, and again rejected stacked UIM coverage. They made another change to the policy in 2015, removing the other of the original insured vehicles with a different car. No additional form rejecting stacked UIM coverage was offered or sought to be completed on the occasion of the removal of the last vehicle, and the ongoing premiums paid by Appellants reflected the lower rate for non-stacked UIM overage on two vehicles. Robert was injured in an accident caused by the negligence of a third party. That party had insufficient liability coverage to cover Robert's injuries. Appellants initiated a claim for UIM benefits under their policy with State Farm, but the parties disagreed on the limit to their benefits. Appellants contended with the last change to the policy, there was no valid waiver of stacked UIM coverage, resulting in a default stacked coverage mandated by statute. The issue presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review in this matter was whether the Superior Court erred as a matter of law by holding that removal of a vehicle from a multiple motor vehicle insurance policy, in which stacked coverage had previously been waived, did not require a renewed express waiver of stacked coverage pursuant to Section 1738(c). The Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court did not err and affirmed its judgment. View "Franks, et al. v. State Farm Mutual" on Justia Law
Franczyk v. Home Depot, et al.
Plaintiff-Respondent Lindsay Franczyk, was working at a Home Depot store when a customer’s dog bit her. Franczyk reported the bite promptly to her supervisors, Philip Rogers and Thomas Mason (collectively with Home Depot, “Defendants”). Franczyk later was diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, which required surgical repair. Franczyk claimed and received Workers’ Compensation Act ("WCA") benefits. Franczyk sued Defendants. In her relevant claim, Franczyk asserts that Defendants failed to investigate the incident sufficiently, and that they negligently allowed the dog owner and witnesses to leave without obtaining identifying information. She contended these acts and omissions denied her the opportunity to file a third-party suit against the dog owner. After the pleading and discovery phases of the litigation concluded, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the WCA’s exclusivity provision. The trial court recognized a novel exception and denied the employer’s motion for summary judgment. The Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed: "the exception proffered by the lower courts cannot be reconciled with the Act’s design, purpose, or plain language." Thus, judgment was reversed. View "Franczyk v. Home Depot, et al." on Justia Law
Erie Insurance Exch. v. Mione, et al.
In 2018, Albert Mione (“Mione”) was in a collision while operating his motorcycle. Mione’s motorcycle was insured by Progressive Insurance, under a policy that did not include UM/UIM coverage. Albert and his wife Lisa jointly owned a car, which was insured by Erie Insurance on a single-vehicle policy that included UM/UIM coverage with stacking. Mione’s adult daughter Angela also lived in the couple’s home, and she too owned a car, which Erie insured on a single-vehicle policy (“Angela’s policy”). Both of the Erie policies contained household vehicle exclusions barring UM/UIM coverage for injuries sustained while operating a household vehicle not listed on the policy under which benefits are sought. The courts below held that the exclusions were valid and enforceable, citing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1998 decision in Eichelman v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 711 A.2d 1006 (Pa. 1998). The Miones, contended that the lower courts erred in applying Eichelman, arguing that the Supreme Court sub silentio overruled that decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Co., 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). The Supreme Court rejected the Miones’ argument, and affirmed. View "Erie Insurance Exch. v. Mione, et al." on Justia Law
Reibenstein v. Barax
Appellee Linda Reibenstein undisputedly brought her claims against Appellant Patrick Conaboy, M.D., after the two-year period had run, and the death certificate undisputedly and correctly noted the medical cause of Reibenstein’s decedent’s death. The trial court ruled that the phrase “cause of death” referred specifically and only to the direct medical cause of death. Accordingly, it granted summary judgment to Dr. Conaboy under Section 513(d) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act (“MCARE”). The Superior Court reversed, interpreting “cause of death” more broadly to encompass considerations associated with the manner of death (i.e., legal cause). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that MCARE’s tolling provision could not bear the breadth of that reading, and reversed. View "Reibenstein v. Barax" on Justia Law
Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider whether the Pennsylvania Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5521(b), required Pennsylvania courts to apply a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose to a claim that accrued in a foreign jurisdiction. In 2013, Appellee William Kornfeind was injured when he fell from a 28-foot extension ladder while performing maintenance work on the roof of his home in Wauconda, Illinois. The ladder was designed, manufactured, and distributed by Old Ladder Company (Old Ladder) in 1995. Kornfeind believed he purchased it from The Home Depot (Home Depot) in Illinois sometime in the late 1990s. Old Ladder filed for bankruptcy in 2006. In 2007, New Werner Holding Co. assumed certain liabilities from Old Ladder. In 2015, Kornfeind filed suit at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. After the close of discovery, New Werner and Home Depot each filed motions for summary judgment, arguing the trial court should use Pennsylvania’s Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act to borrow Illinois’ ten-year statute of repose for product liability claims. They argued that because Kornfeind admitted in his deposition that he purchased the ladder in the late 1990s, the latest he could have purchased it was on December 31, 1999, which was more than ten years before he filed suit in 2015. As Kornfeind’s product liability claims would be time-barred by the Illinois statute of repose and Pennsylvania did not have a statute of repose for product liability claims. The trial court denied both motions for summary judgment, reasoning that, as a matter of law, Pennsylvania’s borrowing statute “is explicitly limited to statutes of limitations and does not include statutes of repose.” Because the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the Uniform Statute of Limitations on Foreign Claims Act did not require the application of a foreign jurisdiction’s statute of repose, it affirmed the portion of the order of the Superior Court that affirmed the trial court order denying the motion for summary judgment filed by New Werner. View "Kornfeind v. New Werner Holding" on Justia Law
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