Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules that Punitive Damages Claim May Not Be Added After Expiration of Statute of Limitations Where Such Claim Amounts to New Cause of Action

In the case of Wilson v U.S. Security Associates, No. 2017 Pa. Super. 226 (Pa. Super. July 18, 2017 Dubow, J., Ransom, J., Platt, J.)(Op. by Platt, J.), the Superior Court granted a defendants' motion seeking judgment notwithstanding the verdict with regard to the punitive damages award under a rationale that the trial court improperly allowed the Plaintiff to reinstate a punitive damages claim after the expiration of the statute of limitations.

In so ruling, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned a $38.5 million punitive damages verdict awarded to the families of two employees who were killed by a disgruntled co-worker in a factory shooting.
According to the Opinion, the plaintiffs initially sought punitive damages, but later the parties entered a stipulation for the withdrawal of the punitive damages claim.  Thereafter, the plaintiffs secured new counsel and, during the course of the trial of the matter and after the statute of limitations had expired, the plaintiffs were permitted by the trial court to reintroduce and pursue the punitive damages claim.
On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the reintroduction of the punitive damages claims merely amounted to an amendment to the ad damnum clause outlining the damages, rather than the identification of a separate cause of action.
The Superior Court panel disagreed and ruled that the trial court erred in allowing the plaintiffs to reintroduce the claim for punitive damages after the statute of limitations had expired.   The Superior Court treated the withdrawal of the punitive damages claims as being analogous to the voluntary withdrawal of a suit, which action does not serve to toll the statute of limitations. The Court also noted in footnote 27 that allowing the punitive damages claim to proceed mid-trial was also prejudicial to the defendant.

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion online may click this LINK.

UPDATE:  By Order dated September 26, 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court withdrew this decision and granted argument en banc.  More updates to follow as this issue develops.  Click HERE to view this Order.

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