Monday, November 21, 2011

Statute of Limitations Defense Upheld Where Wrong Defendant Identified in Complaint

In his recent decision in the case of Craig v. Liberty Mutual Fire & Automobile Ins. Co., No. 11 - CV - 3894 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Nov. 3, 2011Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed a statute of limitations issue in the context of a pro se plaintiff in an automobile accident case who sued the tortfeasor's liability insurer rather than the tortfeasor himself.

According to the Opinion, after the two year statute of limitations had expired, the plaintiff sought to amend her original handwritten Complaint to change the named defendant's identity from the insurer to the insured, i.e. the defendant tortfeasor driver.

Although the tortfeasor was referenced by name in the body of the original Complaint, he was not identified as a defendant nor was he ever served with process before the statute expired.  Judge Nealon cited to numerous cases upholding the principle of law that, generally speaking, a new and distinct party can not be joined in a lawsuit after the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations.

This case is also noteworthy for its recitation, with supporting citations, of the basic principle of law that you can not sue a tortfeasor's carrier for the negligent acts committed by the tortfeasor.  As such, this case may be one to have in hand for the recurring issue in District Magistrate civil litigation matters where a pro se claimant sues the defendant's carrier as opposed to the defendant tortfeasor.

Based upon the above, the court in Craig granted the defendant's preliminary objections and dismissed the case.

Anyone desiring a copy of the court's detailed Order in Craig v. Liberty Mutual may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

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