Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Preliminary Objections Denied in Premises Case on Issues of Agency, Recklessness, and Specificity

The Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed Preliminary Objections to a personal injury Complaint in the case of Rossi v. School Side Builders, Inc., No. 2017-CV-2731 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Nov. 15, 2018 Nealon, J.).   This matter arose out of a premises liability claim.   

The Plaintiff contends that she was a residential tenant on the Defendant’s premises.   The Plaintiff was in the process of cooking french fries in a pan with grease on an electric stove when the pan suddenly caught on fire.   

The Plaintiff alleged that the flames from the fire activated the automatic sprinkler system in the building and water was emitted from the sprinkler head which then allegedly caused a fireball explosion when the water contacted the boiling grease.  This allegedly caused the boiling grease to splash from the pan and burn the Plaintiff on various parts of her body.  

The case came before the court by way of Preliminary Objections filed by the Defendant seeking to strike the Plaintiff’s vicarious liability claim based upon the Plaintiff’s failure to identify the Defendant’s alleged agents by name.    

The Defendants also preliminarily objected to the Plaintiff’s allegations of recklessness and the related claim for punitive damages on the grounds that the Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to support those claims.   

The Defendants additionally asserted a “Connor” objection with regards to the Plaintiff’s references to the Defendant’s alleged failure to comply with certain requirements of the International Building Code and the National Fire Protection Association requirements without specifying which code provisions or requirements were allegedly violated.  

With regards to the Preliminary Objections to the vicarious liability claim, the court addressed various appellate decisions which have repeatedly held that a plaintiff's failure to identify the Defendant’s agents by name, or the designation of those individuals as a unit, does not justify striking agent allegations in a Complaint.   Judge Nealon noted that these appellate court decisions have led to a number of similar decisions in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas rejecting efforts by Defendant to strike agency claims for failure to identify the actual or ostensible agents by name [usually in the medical malpractice context].   

The court in Rossi also noted that, to rule otherwise, would result in numerous requests for pre-Complaint discovery in virtually every case in order to pre-empt the filing of these types of Preliminary Objections by Defendants.   Accordingly, these Preliminary Objections to the vicarious liability allegations in the Complaint were denied.  

Relative to the allegations of recklessness and the claim for punitive damages, the court reviewed the requirements for this type of cause of action and held that, based upon a review of the allegations in the Complaint, the Plaintiff had sufficiently pled these claims under the current status of the law.  As such, these Preliminary Objections were denied as well.  

With regards to the Defendant’s Connor objections regarding the Plaintiff’s allegations pertaining to violations of co-provisions and requirements, the court ruled that the Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to implicate the Code provisions and noted that the issue of which sections of the application Codes were applicable could be developed and determined during the course of discovery and thereafter addressed and resolved in Pre-Trial Motions In Limine.   As such, these Preliminary Objections were denied by the court as well.

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

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