Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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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

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This discretionary appeal concerned discovery in a medical negligence lawsuit in which the patient suffered complications following surgery at a hospital. The issue was whether certain portions of the hospital’s credentialing file for the doctor who performed the surgery were protected from discovery. The hospital claimed protection under the Peer Review Protection Act and the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act. The Supreme Court held: (1) a hospital’s credentials committee qualified as a “review committee” for purposes of Section 4 of the Peer Review Protection Act to the extent it undertakes peer review; and (2) the federal Health Care Quality Improvement Act protects from disclosure the responses given by the National Practitioner Data Bank to queries submitted to it – and this protection exists regardless of any contrary aspect of state law. The order of the Superior Court was reversed insofar as it ordered discovery of the NPDB query responses. It was vacated in all other respects and the matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Leadbitter v. Keystone, et al." on Justia Law

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The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court involving the state's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (“MVFRL”). In July 2015, Corey Donovan (“Corey”) suffered significant injuries due to a collision between a motorcycle, which he owned and was operating, and an underinsured vehicle. He recovered the $25,000 limit of coverage available under the policy insuring the underinsured vehicle as well as the $50,000 per person limit of UIM coverage available under Corey’s policy insuring the motorcycle, issued by State Farm Automobile Insurance Company. Corey then sought coverage under a policy issued by State Farm to his mother, Linda Donovan (“Linda”), under which he was insured as a resident relative. Linda’s Auto Policy insured three automobiles but not Corey’s motorcycle. Linda’s policy had a UIM coverage limit of $100,000 per person, and Linda signed a waiver of stacked UIM coverage on her policy which complied with the waiver form mandated by Section 1738(d) of the MVFRL. First, the Pennsylvania Court considered whether an insured’s signature on the waiver form mandated by 75 Pa.C.S. 1738(d) resulted in the insured’s waiver of inter-policy stacking of UIM coverage where the relevant policy insured multiple vehicles. To this, the Supreme Court held the waiver invalid as applied to inter-policy stacking for multi-vehicle policies in light of its decision in Craley v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 895 A.2d 530 (Pa. 2006). The Court then determined whether the policy’s household vehicle exclusion was enforceable following its decision in Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Company, 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. 2019). Finally, after concluding that the household vehicle exclusion was unenforceable absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking, the Court addressed the third question posed by the Court of Appeals regarding the applicability of the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage. After review, the Supreme Court held that the policy’s coordination of benefits provision for unstacked UIM coverage did not apply absent a valid waiver of inter-policy stacking. Having answered these questions of law, the matter was returned to the Third Circuit. View "Donovan, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant, the City of Johnstown ("Johnstown"), contended that a party asserting a firefighter cancer claim had to satisfy the requirements of both Section 301(c)(2) and Section 301(f) of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act to establish a viable claim. Michael Sevanick was a firefighter for Johnstown for twenty-nine years. After retirement, he worked a a car dealership. Nine years after he retired, Sevanick was diagnosed with kidney cancer. In 2016, he filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits, alleging that his cancer was caused by exposure to a carcinogen recognized as a Group 1 carcinogen by IARC during his time as a firefighter. The Workers' Compensation Judge found in Sevanick's favor, and Johnstown appealed. The Workers' Compensation Appeals Board found that Section 301(c)(2) did not apply, but rather that the limitations of Sevanick's claim were governed by Section 301(f). The Board reasoned that Section 301(f) created a new timeframe for cancer-related occupational disease claims made by firefighters. Because Sevanick raised his claim well within 600 weeks from his last date of employment as a firefighter, the Board concluded the claim was timely. The Commonwealth Court agreed with that determination. Johnstown petitioned for Allowance of Appeal for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to determine whether a firefighter making a claim under Section 108(r) of the Act had to comply with the timing requirements of Section 301(c)(2). The Supreme Court concluded that the time for filing a Section 108(r) firefighter cancer claim was governed by Section 301(f) alone. Therefore, the Commonwealth Court's ruling was affirmed. View "City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on the proper application of the statute of limitations to a tort action filed by Renee’ Rice against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and its bishops (collectively, the “Diocese”) for their alleged role in covering up and facilitating a series of alleged sexual assaults committed by the Reverend Charles Bodziak. Rice alleged that Bodziak sexually abused her from approximately 1974 through 1981. She did not file suit against Bodziak or the Diocese until June 2016, thirty-five years after the alleged abuse stopped. The Supreme Court concluded that a straightforward application of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations required that Rice’s complaint be dismissed as untimely. View "Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Ryan Mortimer was seriously and permanently injured when an intoxicated driver collided with her car. The driver recently had been served by employees of the Famous Mexican Restaurant (“the Restaurant”) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. The owners of the Restaurant had a contractual management agreement with the owner of the Restaurant’s liquor license (“the License”), Appellee 340 Associates, LLC. The Restaurant was located in a large, mixed-use building owned by Appellee McCool Properties, LLC. At the time of the injury, Appellees Michael Andrew McCool (“Andy”) and Raymond Christian McCool (“Chris”) were the sole owners of 340 Associates. With their father, Raymond McCool (“Raymond”), they also owned McCool Properties. In an underlying “dram shop action,” Mortimer obtained a combined judgment of $6.8 million against 340 Associates and numerous other defendants. Under the Liquor Code, 340 Associates as licensee was jointly and severally liable for Mortimer’s entire judgment. 340 Associates had no significant assets beyond the License itself, and neither carried insurance for such actions nor was required by law to do so. Seeking to collect the balance of the judgment, Mortimer filed suit against 340 Associates, McCool Properties, Chris, Andy, and the Estate of Raymond (who died after the collision but before this lawsuit). Mortimer sought to "pierce the corporate veil" to hold some or all of the individual McCool defendants and McCool Properties liable for her judgment. While the Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that a narrow form of “enterprise liability” might be available under certain circumstances, it could not apply under the facts of this case: "We believe that our restrained, equitable posture toward veil-piercing cases has enabled Pennsylvania courts to do substantial justice in most cases, and that there is no clear reason to preclude per se the application of enterprise liability in the narrow form described herein." View "Mortimer v. McCool, et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a medical malpractice action in which appellees Nancy Raynor, Esq. and Raynor & Associates served as defense counsel for Dr. Jeffrey Gellar and Roxborough Emergency Physician Associates (collectively Roxborough). Rosalind Sutch, executrix of the estate of Rosalind Wilson (decedent), and her counsel in that lawsuit, Messa & Associates, P.C. was plaintiff in the suit. Joseph Messa, Jr., Esq. (collectively, the Messa appellants) were Sutch's counsel. In July 2009, Sutch filed a medical malpractice action alleging, among other things, Roxborough failed to obtain a CT scan and timely diagnose decedent’s lung cancer. The trial court granted Sutch’s pre-trial motion in limine, and defendants were precluded “from presenting any evidence, testimony, and/or argument regarding decedent’s smoking history” at trial. During trial, Sutch’s counsel requested an order from the trial judge directing Raynor to inform witnesses of the ban on testimony regarding decedent’s smoking history before taking the stand. The court did not issue the requested order; upon questioning, the defense expert testified the decedent was a smoker, was hypertensive, and had vascular disease. The witness did not recollect having a discussion with Raynor regarding mentioning the decedent's smoking. Plaintiff's counsel asked for a mistrial and/or sanctions. The trial judge denied the request for a mistrial and instead provided a curative instruction to the jury. At the end of trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Sutch. Appellants filed post-trial motions seeking a new trial as well as an order holding Raynor in contempt and awarding sanctions in the aggregate amount of counsel fees and costs for the first trial ($1,349,063.67). The court granted the motion for a new trial. The court found Raynor to be in civil contempt and issued an order for sanctions in the amount of $946,195.16 to be divided among appellants. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed whether the Superior Court properly determined a request for contempt sanctions against opposing counsel raised in a post-trial motion in a lawsuit where neither counsel was a named party, constituted actionable “civil proceedings” under the Dragonetti Act. The Supreme Court concluded that intra-case filings, such as the subject post-trial motion for contempt and/or sanctions, did not constitute the “procurement, initiation or continuation of civil proceedings” as contemplated under the Dragonetti Act. The Superior Court erred when it held otherwise. View "Raynor v. D'Annunzio" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Ray Bourgeois hyperextended his spinal cord, resulting in quadraplegia, at Roundtop Mountain Resort when the snow tube he was riding collided with a folded “deceleration mat” that the resort’s employees had placed at the bottom of the snow tubing hill to slow down snow tubing patrons and prevent them from traveling beyond the run-out area. Mr. and Mrs. Bourgeois purchased a snow tubing season pass. The reverse side of the season pass contained a release agreement, which provided that snow tubing involves “inherent and other risks that could lead to serious injury or death.” The release provided that the signatory both assumed all the risks of snow tubing and released Ski Roundtop from liability. The Bourgeoises made 16 to 20 runs down the tubing hill without incident. On February 17, 2013, after completing several runs, Mr. Bourgeois rode his snow tube in a prone position, head-first down the hill. At the end of the run, Mr. Bourgeois’s tube went over a flat deceleration mat, which did not slow him down. He then collided with a second, folded mat, which caused the tube to stop abruptly. With this sudden stop of the tube, Mr. Bourgeois’s momentum propelled him, while still holding on to the tube’s handles to avoid falling off the tube, forward head first over the front of the tube and face down into the snow. With his head stuck in the snow, the momentum of his body carried him forward, which hyperextended his neck causing quadriplegia. As a direct result of Mr. Bourgeois’s accident, Ski Roundtop performed an investigation and decided to stop using mats to assist snow tubers with deceleration. Instead, the resort decided to increase the amount of snow-making equipment near the run-out area so it could create a reverse incline to slow down riders. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court erred in failing to consider the evidence, specifically the expert reports, in the light most favorable to the Bourgeoises. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bourgeois v. Snow Time Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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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

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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