Sunday, March 25, 2012

Punitive Damages Based On Cell Phone Use in Auto Accident Case Dismissed (Again)

In a recent March 20, 2012 Federal Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania decision in the case of Piester v. Hickey, 2011-CIV-04720, United States Magistrate District Judge Lynne A. Sitarski issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granted the Motion of the Defendants, John M. Hickey and Potamkin Hyundai, Inc., to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Punitive Damages Claim Pursuant to F. R.C. 12(b)(6). The Plaintiff’s punitive damages claims were based upon the fact that the Defendant driver was allegedly using a cell phone at the time of the accident. The Plaintiffs sued Hickey as the Defendant driver and Potamkin Hyundai, Inc. as the Defendant owner.

The Plaintiff more specifically alleged that the Defendant driver failed to operate his vehicle safely when he “looked at” or “used” his cell phone while driving. The Plaintiff further alleged that the Defendant owner was negligent in failing to train the Defendant driver how to drive safely and/or for allowing the Defendant driver to use his cell phone while driving the vehicle.

After reviewing the applicable law on punitive damages in detail, the court granted the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.

The court initially noted that the 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss was untimely. As such, the court reviewed the motion as a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under 12(c)(2).

The court noted that, even accepting as true all of the allegations in the Plaintiff’s Complaint, including the allegations that the Defendant driver “looked at” or “used” his cell phone immediately before the accident, such allegations in the absence of any other pertinent facts, “will not support a punitive damages claim under Pennsylvania law.” In so ruling, the court referred to the recent Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas case of Xander v. Kiss, No. Civ-2010-11945, 2012 W.L. 168326 (C.P. January 11, 2012), which case was recently highlighted here on Tort Talk.

Anyone desiring a copy of this decision may click this link.

I send thanks to Attorney Stephen Bruderle, Esquire of the Philadelphia office of Margolis Edelstein for forwarding this case to my attention.

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