Thursday, May 24, 2018

HOPING TO BRING YOUR CASE TO A CLOSE?



I welcome the opportunity to assist you in settling your case through CUMMINS MEDIATION SERVICES.

To schedule a Mediation, please contact me at dancummins@comcast.net or at 570-346-0745.

Resume and fee schedule available upon request.

New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act Applied To Preclude Damages in Pennsylvania Auto Accident Case

 
In the case of Williams v. Reczynski, No. C-0048-CV-2016-3019 (C.P. Northampton Co. Dec. 14, 2017 Dally, J.), the court granted the Defendant’s Motion In Limine to preclude evidence of medical expenses and non-economic damages in a motor vehicle accident case.  

This matter arose out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Pennsylvania.  The Defendants were Pennsylvania residents.  According the allegations in the Complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that she was a resident of New Jersey at the time of the accident.  

During the course of discovery, it was confirmed that the Plaintiff had no insurance on her automobile at the time of the accident.  

The Defendants asserted that New Jersey law should be applied in the matter and that, under New Jersey law, the Plaintiffs should be precluded from seeking economic and non-economic damages pursuant to the New Jersey Automobile Reparation Reform Act.  

According to the Opinion, although Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law does not preclude an uninsured motorist from claiming economic damages, under New Jersey law, an uninsured motorist is precluded from seeking any damages for economic or non-economic losses.  

After completing a conflicts of law analysis, the Northampton County of Court of Common Pleas ruled that New Jersey law should indeed apply on this issue.   Applying that New Jersey law, the court granted the Defendant’s motion to preclude the Plaintiff's damages claims.  

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK.


I send thanks to Attorney John A. Statler and Jason Statler of the Lemoyne, Pa law firm of Johnson & Duffy for bringing this case to my attention.   

The Days of Judges Not Being In Courtroom for Voir Dire May Be Coming to An End

 
Picking a Jury:  A View from the Bench

In the case of Trigg v. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, No. 2018 Pa. Super. 129 (Pa. Super. May 14, 2018 Kunselmen, Olson, J.J.; Bowes, J., concurring) (Op. by Kunselmen, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed a trial court’s denial of post-trial motions in a medical malpractice case regarding, in part, jury selection issues.  

According to the Opinion, in certain trials in Allegheny County, only a court clerk presides over voir dire, as such the trial court judge did not have any first hand perception of the juror’s demeanor.  

Accordingly, given that firsthand perception of a juror’s demeanor is the basis for a palpable error deference standard of review, decisions on jury strikes made by judges who do not attend voir dire are not accorded this palpable error deference by the Superior Court.  

The appellate court ruled in this fashion after noting that the alleged demeanor of a perceptive juror cannot be reconstructed after the fact. by attorneys attempting to relay the same to the formerly absent trial judge.  

The Superior Court ruled that "[a] judge personally witnessing the original voir dire is essential, because it justifies our -- and the losing party's -- faith in the trial court's rulings on challenges for cause."

In her Concurring Opinion, Judge Bowes also emphasized the need for trial court judges to be in the courtroom to assess a juror's demeanor in responding to voir dire questions as part of the process of properly determining whether a juror should be stricken or not.
The Superior Court also ruled that a juror with relatives who were physicians, and who alleged showed bias as a result, should have been excused for cause.  

 Overall, the Superior Court found reversible error where a party is forced to use a peremptory challenge to exclude a juror who should have been excused for cause.  


Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.  Judge Bowes's Concurring Opinion can be viewed HERE.  

 
I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.  


 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Summary Judgment Granted in Med Mal Case Due to Lack of Expert Testimony


In the case of Gintoff v. Thomas, No. 2016-CV-2155 (C.P. Lacka. Co. May 4, 2018 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas granted a Defendant hospital’s Motion for Summary Judgment in a medical malpractice case given the Plaintiff’s failure to support the claims against that Defendant with expert opinion testimony on those particular claims.  

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County
According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff filed a medical malpractice action alleging negligent prescription and monitoring of anti-coagulation therapy that allegedly caused a right occipital hemorrhage which required emergency treatment and allegedly resulted in permanent harm.  

The Plaintiff sued, among others, a Defendant hospital on claims for vicarious liability and corporate negligence.

The Defendant hospital filed a Motion for Summary Judgment seeking to dismiss these claims on the grounds that the Plaintiff did not produce expert opinion testimony on the issues pertinent to those claims.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff did produce an expert report containing opinions from a hematology expert only as to the alleged negligence of the Co-Defendant hematologist.   The court also noted that the Plaintiff’s expert did not criticize the care provided by any hospital personnel. It was further indicated that the Plaintiff’s previously stipulated that the Co-Defendant hematologist was not an actual or ostensible agent for whom the hospital could be found vicariously liable.   Nor was there any opinion in the hematologist’s expert report asserting any institutional negligence against the hospital.

Consequently, based upon the record before it, the court found that the Plaintiff’s case lacked sufficient expert opinion evidence to establish a prima facie claim for vicarious liability or corporate negligence on the part of the Defendant hospital.   As such, the hospital’s Motion for Summary Judgment was granted.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision by Judge Nealon may click this LINK.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Request for New Trial Denied Where Defendant Driver Found Negligent But Jury Found Causation Element Not Met in Fatal MVA Case

In the case of Steudler v. Keating, No. 8795 - CV - 2013 (C.P. Monroe Co. March 20, 2018 Williamson, J.), Judge David J. Williamson ruled that Plaintiffs were not entitled to a new trial based upon the jury’s failure to find causation even though it found the Defendant driver negligent in an auto accident case. 

The court ruled in this fashion after finding that it was possible for the jury to determine that the Defendant was negligent but that his negligence was not the factual cause of a fatal accident.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs, Erika Steudler and Victor Resto, were walking along a road in Monroe County when Resto was struck by a motor vehicle driven by the Defendant.  

The court noted that the accident occurred at night on a country back road with no street lighting.   Neither Plaintiff was carrying a flashlight at the time of the accident.  

Plaintiff Steudler did not see the accident but felt Resto brush against her the darkness when he was thrown in the air.  

Steudler filed a lawsuit against the Defendant seeking emotional damages due to witnessing the accident while Resto’s estate filed a wrongful death claim.

As noted, the matters proceeded to trial where the jury found the Defendant negligent but also found that his actions were not the factual cause of the Plaintiffs’ injuries.  

In the post-trial motions, the Plaintiffs asserted that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence and shocking to one’s sense of justice.   The Plaintiffs argued that, because the jury found that the Defendant was negligent, the jury should have found that he was also the factual cause of their injuries since it was undisputed that Resto died from the accident.  

The court ruled that a verdict is not against the weight of the evidence simply because the evidence at trial was conflicting or that a reasonable fact-finder could have decided the case in favor of either party.  

The trial court distinguished this case from the line of cases which suggest that when a Defendant is found negligent and both parties admit that there was some injury, then the Defendant must be found to have caused at least some portion of the injuries alleged.   Here, the court noted that the most distinguishable factor between that line of cases and this case was the issue of the Plaintiffs’ contributory negligence.   The court noted that, in the line of cases cited the Plaintiffs, the Defendants had admitted negligence and there was no difference in opinion that the Defendants’ negligence had caused those accidents, which cause some personal injury.  

In the Steudler matter, the Defendant never admitted negligence and there were claims of contributory negligence pursued.   The defense argued that the sole cause of the accident was the Plaintiffs’ own acts or omissions.   It was the Defendant’s defense that he operated his vehicle within the posted speed limit, stayed within his lane of travel, and never saw the Plaintiffs prior to the impact.  

The court also noted that the parties presented experts with different opinions on the theory of the cause of the accident in this matter.

In the end, the court found that the jury’s verdict in this matter could have been based upon the jury’s belief that Resto was in the roadway, together with Steudler, and that, if he was not, he may not have been struck and killed. 

As such, the court denied the Plaintiff’s request for a new trial under the case presented.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK

Source:  “Digest of Recent Opinions” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (April 10, 2018).

Superior Court Gives a Primer on How To Preserve Request for JNOV

In the case of Corvin v. Tihansky, No. 2018 Pa. Super. 91 (Pa. Super. April 20, 2018 Bender, P.J.E., Shogan, J., Strassburger, J.) (Op. by Shogan, J.), the Superior Court affirmed a trial court’s denial of a Plaintiff’s request for a new trial or a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) after the jury found that the defendant driver’s negligence in a rear-end accident was not a factual cause of any harm.  

According to the Opinion, the court ruled in this fashion after finding that the Plaintiff waived his JNOV issue where the Plaintiff’s counsel failed to move for a directed verdict, and where the Plaintiff’s counsel withdrew his request for a binding jury instruction. 

The court additionally noted that the jury's verdict may have been supported by the fact that the Plaintiff’s allegedly concealed of his pre-accident chiropractor visits from his own physicians which  presented the jury with an issue of credibility. 

The court also noted that one of the Defendant’s experts also offered an opinion that the Plaintiff had not been injured in the subject accident.  

The Superior Court found that there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s refusal to substitute its judgment for that of the jury with respect to the Plaintiff's request for a new trial.  


Source:  “Digest of Recent Cases.”  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (May 8, 2018).  


Monday, May 21, 2018

Recklessness Allegations Allowed To Stand in MVA Case Where Plaintiff Confirms No Punitive Sought



In the recent Northampton County Court of Common Pleas decision of Nolen v. Esken, No. C-48-CV-2018-0385 (C.P. North. Co. March 28, 2018 Beltrami, J.), the court overruled a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to allegations of recklessness contained in a Plaintiff’s motor vehicle accident Complaint.  

According to the Opinion, in their Complaint, the Plaintiffs alleged recklessness on the grounds that the Defendant was speeding at the time of the accident, ran a red light, and collided with the Plaintiff’s vehicle.  

In Preliminary Objections, the Defendant moved to strike the allegations of recklessness and other related terms from the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, arguing that the Complaint failed to set forth facts to support such allegations.   The Defendant asserted this objection under Pa.R.C.P. 1028(a)(2), which allows for Preliminary Objections on the grounds of inclusion of impertinent matter in a Complaint.   

The court noted that, under Pennsylvania law, to be impertinent, the allegations must be immaterial to the proof of the cause of the action.  The court also noted that, only where an allegation is wholly irrelevant to the action and cannot influence the result will such allegations be deemed to be impertinent.   The court also noted that the right of a trial court to strike impertinent matters should be sparingly exercise under Pennsylvania law and utilized only when a party can show prejudice.   See Op. at 2. 

In response to the Preliminary Objections, Plaintiffs argued that they had not claimed punitive damages and have only alleged “recklessness” in their Complaint in order to attempt to preclude the Defendant from raising arguments of comparative negligence in the case.   The Plaintiff was relying upon the case of Krivijanski v. Union R. Co., 515 A.2d 933, 936 (Pa. Super. 1986), in which the Pennsylvania Superior Court held “that when willful or wanton misconduct is involved, comparative negligence should not be applied.”  

Judge Beltrami ruled that, given that the Plaintiffs were not seeking punitive damages, and given that the Plaintiffs stated reason for pleading “recklessness” and other related terms under the law of the Krivijanski holding, such allegations in this matter could indeed serve to influence the case and were, therefore, not impertinent.   

The court also felt that the Defendants would not be prejudice by the allegations given that the Plaintiff had not claimed punitive damages.  

I send thanks to Attorney Ed Shaughnessy of Shaughnessy Law Office in Easton, Pennsylvania for bringing this case to my attention.  

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK.

Commentary:  Defense litigators should beware of allowing allegations of recklessness to stand without challenge, even where Plaintiff asserts that they are not claiming punitive damages, as such allegations may leave the door open for the Plaintiff to amend the Complaint later in the litigation to then include punitive damages.   Apparently, this potential prospect was not argued or considered in this particular case.