Thursday, April 9, 2015

Proper Pleadings in a Federal Court Trucking Accident Case Reviewed

In its recent memorandum decision in the case of Gregg v. Lonestar Transportation, LLC, 2015 WL 1003911 (W.D. Pa. March 6, 2015 Gibson, J.) (mem.), the Western Federal District Court of Pennsylvania held that allegations that defendant trucking company's agent acted outrageously in operating a truck/trailer that measured 160 feet in length from a place of safety into a place that was extremely dangerous and which caused a sudden emergency, failed to allege sufficient facts supporting a claim for punitive damages.  However the Plaintiff was given an opportunity to amend.  More specifically, the court ruled that allegations pertaining to a Defendant’s moving of an oversize truck load over a bridge in dense fog could not possibly support a punitive damages claim. 

The court reaffirmed the well-settled principle of law that punitive damages are an extreme remedy available only in the most exceptional matters.  Such a claim requires allegations of an evil motive or reckless indifference.  Moreover, a plaintiff must plead and establish that the defendant’s subjective appreciation of the risk that harmed the plaintiff and that the defendant consciously disregarded that risk.  Here, the Plaintiff did not alleged that the Defendant knew of and disregarded any risk.  The Court also noted that the alleged failure to train amounted to negligence but not outrageous so as to support a claim for punitive damages.

The court also ruled that an assertion in the Complaint along the lines of "including but not limited to" language was not so vague and ambiguous so as to require a more definitive statement given the context in which that language appeared.  However, where that language appeared in another paragraph of the Complaint such a phrase was found to indeed require a more definitive statement.  Again, the Plaintiff was given opportunity to amend.  The Court also finds that plaintiff's use of "in otherwise" language in another allegation did not render the allegation so vague and ambiguous as to make it impossible for defendant to respond. 

Last, the allegation that defendant was negligent in: "Training and instructing its employees, agents and/or drivers that the laws and regulations governing motor vehicles and permitted motor vehicles in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania required said employees, agents and/or drivers to proceed from an area where no danger to motorists existed into an area where an extremely dangerous condition would exist for motorists" was found not to be so vague and ambiguous that the Defendant could not respond. 

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this trucking accident memorandum decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney James Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith for bringing this case to my attention.  I highly recommend that you check out Attorney Beck's award-winning and nationally recognized blog, the Drug and Device Law Blog, which can be accessed at this LINK.

I also send thanks to Attorney Scott Cooper of the Harrisburg law firm of Schmidt Kramer for tipping me off to this decision as well.

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