Monday, June 16, 2014

Judge Burke of Luzerne County Allows Punitive Damages Claims To Proceed in Cell Phone(s) Distraction Auto Accident Case

In his recent Luzerne County decision in the case of Gugliotti v. O'Rourke, No. 2012-CV-15133 (C.P. Luzerne Co. 2014 Burke, P.J.), President Judge Thomas F. Burke, Jr., by Order only, denied a Defendant's Preliminary Objections to Plaintiff's allegations of reckless conduct in support of compensatory and punitive damages claims in the Complaint concerning the Defendant's use of not one, but two, cell phones at the time he rear-ended the vehicles ahead.

According to the briefs filed in the matter, the police report indicated that the defendant driver allegedly admitted at the scene that "both of his cell phones began ringing and that he leaned over to answer them...[he] failed to see the stopped traffic ahead of him due to cell phone distraction and he struck the rear of Unit #2."

The defense asserted that the pleadings of the Complaint failed to conform to rule or law of court in that they included scandalous or impertinent allegations.  The defense also asserted that the allegations failed to have sufficient facts plead in support of the claims presented.

The defense asserted in its brief that punitive damages were not supported where the claims did not establish that the defendant was not talking on his cell phones at the time of the accident but merely stated that they had begun to ring.  The defense also noted that, in any event, use of a cell phone during the course of the accident in and of itself was insufficient to support allegations of reckless conduct or a claim for punitive damages.

The Plaintiff asserted in his brief that the conduct alleged of a defendant driver being distracted by leaning over to answer two cell phones that were simultaneously ringing and crashing into a car ahead and causing a four vehicle chain reaction accident was the type of conduct the cases to date have suggested may be sufficient to allow the claim to proceed.

As noted, Judge Burke overruled the defendant's Preliminary Objections.  Anyone wishing to review the Court's simple Order of denial may contact me at

I send thanks to the prevailing Plaintiff's attorneys Joseph Price, Esq. and Colleen Kearney, Esq. of the Moosic, PA law firm of Dougherty, Leventhal & Price for bringing this case to my attention.

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