Thursday, June 13, 2019

Latest Pennsylvania Superior Court Decision on the Admission of Intoxication Evidence in a Personal Injury Matter



In the case of Livingston v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 318 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. April 29, 2019 Colins, J., Lazrus, J., Kunselman, J.) (Op. by Colins, J.), the court affirmed the entry of a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff following post-trial motions in a motor vehicle accident matter. 

On appeal, the appellate court noted that evidence of alcohol or drug consumption by a person involved in an accident is admissible in a personal injury action only where there is evidence that reasonably shows intoxication and unfitness to engage in the activity at issue at the time of the accident.   

The Superior Court noted that even an admission by the tortfeasor of admitted alcohol or drug use is subject to being excluded from evidence where the Plaintiff fails to present evidence of chemical testing sufficient to show intoxication, or where the Plaintiff fails to present any other evidence of impairment. 

On the issue of punitive damages, the court reiterated a general rule of law that such damages can be awarded against the Defendant only if the Plaintiff shows that the Defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the Plaintiff was exposed and that the Defendant acted, or failed to act, in conscious disregard of that risk of injury.   The court noted that the fact that a Defendant knew of a possibility of accidents and did not undertake additional safety measures is not sufficient in and of itself to support a claim for punitive damages.  

Conversely, the court also noted that, in a case of a defendant who does not admit to knowledge of a danger, punitive damages may still be pursued where other circumstantial evidence can prove that the defendant had subjective knowledge of the risk of harm.  

In this matter, there is no evidence in the record to show that a corporate defendant consciously disregarded the risk of driver drowsiness. However, the court noted that a corporate defendant can be vicariously liable for the reckless conduct of an employee without proof that the employer’s conduct itself satisfied the standard of punitive damages.  

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

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.

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