Thursday, February 28, 2019

Reckless Conduct Allegations and Punitive Damages Claims Allowed to Proceed in DUI Civil Litigation

In the case of Santiago v. Yates, No. 2018-CV-4504 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Feb. 14, 2019 Nealon, J.), the court reviewed various Preliminary Objections filed by a Defendant in a motor vehicle accident case.  

In particular, the Defendant filed Preliminary Objections against the Plaintiff’s allegations of the Defendant’s alleged reckless operation of his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance along with the Plaintiff’s request for punitive damages.   

The Plaintiff additionally alleged that she was not bound by her Limited Tort selection and instead was entitled to Full Tort coverage under an exception to the rule pertaining to a conviction of the defendant driver for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance.  

The Defendant demurred to the claim for punitive damages on the grounds of legal insufficiency.   The Defendant also requested a dismissal of the Plaintiff’s allegations of recklessness due to an alleged lack of factual support for those allegations. 

The Defendant also moved to strike any references to the Defendant’s driving under the influence of alcohol and a controlled substance on the basis that those allegations allegedly contained “scandalous and impertinent matter.”

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County

In denying these Preliminary Objections, Judge Nealon noted that the Pennsylvania appellate and trial courts have “uniformly recognized the viability of a punitive damages claim against a motorist who causes an accident and personal injury while driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.   Reviewing and accepting the Plaintiff’s allegations as true in this matter as required by the standard of review, the court denied the Defendant’s various Preliminary Objections.  

The court also noted that the allegations of driving under the influence assumed a greater significance in this case given that the Defendant’s conviction in the criminal courts transformed the Plaintiff’s Limited Tort status to Full Tort status under the applicable law.  

As such, the court additionally rejected the claim that the allegations at issue amounted to scandalous and impertinent allegations.   To the contrary, the court found that the allegations pertaining to the Defendant’s driving under the influence were sufficient to support the Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages based upon the Defendant’s alleged reckless conduct.  

As stated, the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections were overruled in their entirety. 

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

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