Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
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
Leadbitter v. Keystone, et al.
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
Donovan, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Ins. Co.
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
Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown
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
City of Johnstown v. WCAB (Sevanick)
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