Monday, January 16, 2012

Northampton County Court of Common Pleas Dismisses Punitive Damages Claim Based on Cell Phone Use

A claim for punitive damages based upon an allegation that the defendant driver was using a cell phone at the time of a motor vehicle accident was recently dismissed in a decision issued on January 11, 2012 by Judge Leonard N. Zito of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas in the case of Xander v. Kiss, CV - 2010 - 11945 (C.P. Northampton Jan. 11, 2012 Zito, J.).

In his decision, Judge Zito rejected the plaintiff's attempt to base such a claim upon the definition of punitive damages found under the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 908.  Noting that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that punitive damages are an extreme remedy available only in the most exceptional of circumstances, Judge Zito ruled that the allegations in the plaintiff's Complaint did not rise to the level of egregiousness required by Pennsylvania law to support such a claim.

The court stated that, to the contrary, viewing the facts pled in the Complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, it was only alleged by the plaintiff that the "Defendant simply lost control of his vehicle while speaking on his cellular phone, causing a motor vehicle accident...." 

Judge Zito stated that while such alleged facts may support a claim of negligence, the allegations did not arise to a level of an evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of the plaintiff as required for a punitive damages claim.  Without any other facts pled to show recklessness, such as excessive speed or running a red light or stop sign, etc., the court found that a punitive damages claim was not warranted in this matter.  Accordingly, the defendant's motion to strike the punitive damages claim was granted.

The prevailing defense attorney in this matter was Attorney Gerald Connor of the Scranton office of Margolis Edelstein.

Anyone desiring a copy of the court's opinion in Xander v. Kiss may contact me at

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