Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Preliminary Objections Sustained Where Only Conclusory Allegations Set Forth in Dram Shop Action


In the case of Shultz v. Barnes, No. 18-CV-1308 (C.P. Lyc. Co. July 19, 2019 Linhardt, J.), the court sustained several Preliminary Objections filed by a Defendant in a liquor liability motor vehicle accident case given that the Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support various claims. 

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was the administrator of the estate of a decedent who was killed in a motor vehicle accident caused by a tortfeasor driver. The Plaintiff alleged that the tortfeasor driver was driving a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol. 

In addition to suing the driver, the Complaint also identified the company that operated the bar where the tortfeasor driver was drinking prior to the accident as a defendant in this case. The owner and president of that bar was also listed as a defendant.  

 The Defendants filed various Preliminary Objections to the Complaint.  

The court sustained the Defendants’ Preliminary Objections to the count in the Complaint alleging a violation of the Dram Shop Act.  

The defense had argued that the Plaintiff had only provided conclusory allegations that the Defendants knew that the tortfeasor driver was visibly intoxicated while he was at the bar.   The court granted these Preliminary Objections and noted that it was not sufficient for a Plaintiff to simply allege that alcoholic beverages were served to patrons in order to support a Dram Shop action.  

The court noted that the Plaintiff failed to assert any facts regarding the physical appearance of the tortfeasor Defendant driver in terms of whether he was visibly intoxicated or not while he was served at the bar.   Although this Preliminary Objection was sustained, the Plaintiff was granted an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint.  

Relative to the Preliminary Objections filed by the individual Defendant, the court found that the Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to pierce the corporate veil.   Again, the Plaintiff was granted an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint in this regard.  

The court also sustained Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiff’s wrongful death claim given that that claim was brought not only on the Plaintiff’s behalf but also on behalf of entities who were allegedly entitled to damages for reasonable hospital, nursing, and medical expenses, as well as funeral expenses, burial expenses and other losses.  The court noted that, under the Rules of Civil Procedure, such allegations were improper in a wrongful death claim.  As such, the Preliminary Objections in this regard were sustained.   Again, the Plaintiff was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint.

Lastly, the court also sustained Preliminary Objections to the allegations of recklessness and the claims for punitive damages under a finding that the Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to support these allegations.   The court noted that, should discovery later reveal facts supporting an award of punitive damages on separate claims, the Plaintiff would be allowed to seek an amendment at that time.   

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


Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (August 27, 2019).    

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