Thursday, November 14, 2019

Motion To Amend Allowed in Favor of Allegations of Recklessness and Punitive Damages in MVA Case

As Tort Talkers may recall, there are two (2) lines of cases on whether allegations of recklessness and/or punitive damages should be allowed in a motor vehicle accident cases not involving intoxicated drivers.

One line of cases hold fast to the rule set forth in Pa. R.C.P. 1019 that there must be supporting facts pled for such claims to stand.

The other line of cases more liberally allow for claims of recklessness to proceed in this context as a general allegation that asserts the tortfeasor's state of mind at the time of the accident.

In those cases in which the Preliminary Objections against allegations of recklessness and/or punitive damages are sustained, it is typically provided by the court that the plaintiff may revisit the issue by way of a Motion to Amend should facts be discovered during the course of discovery to support such claims.

In the case of Novajosky v. North Penn Distributors, Inc., No. 17-CV-94 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Oct. 18, 2019 Nealon, J.), the issue of adding claims for punitive damages during the pendency of a case by way of a Motion to Amend the Complaint was considered.

The case of Novajosky involved a Plaintiff who was allegedly injured in an accident when a tractor and a lowboy unloading an excavator allegedly blocked the only clear lane of travel on a roadway and forced the Plaintiff into a snow and ice covered lane, which allegedly caused the Plaintiff to then lose control and crash his vehicle.

The Plaintiff initially filed suit against the commercial driver and his employer. The Plaintiff alleged that those Defendants negligently blocked the roadway when they knew that their actions would force other motorists to drive into the unplowed snow and icy lane of travel. The Plaintiff also asserted that the Defendant did not place, or even possess, emergency reflective triangles, fuses, or other warning devices required by federal and state law.

After the Plaintiff secured evidence in support of these allegations during the course of discovery, including expert reports in which the experts concluded that the Defendant acted recklessly and with conscious disregard for safety of others, the Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint to include a claim for punitive damages.

Judge Nealon noted that the general rule in Pennsylvania was that leave to amend a Complaint should be liberally granted unless the amendment seeks to assert a new cause of action after the statute of limitations has expired, or where the amendment will result in prejudice to an adverse party.

Given that a request for punitive damages does not constitute an independent cause of action and is merely incidental to an underlying claim for damages, and given that the court found that the Plaintiff’s requested amendment in this matter would merely amplify his earlier allegations without asserting a new cause of action beyond the statute of limitations, the amendment was allowed.

The court also found that the commercial Defendants did not identify any resulting prejudice which would support the denial of the Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend.

As such, the Motion to Amend the Complaint to include a claim for punitive damages was granted.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Brian Walsh of the Scranton, PA law firm of Blake & Walsh, LLC for bringing this case to my attention.

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