Monday, December 30, 2019

THE 2019 TORT TALK TOP TEN


Here is the Tenth Annual 2019 Tort Talk Top Ten--an annual listing of notable cases and important trends in Pennsylvania civil litigation law over the past year or so as highlighted in Tort Talk blog posts.

If you wish to view the actual Tort Talk post on any of the following cases or topics, or the actual Opinion, please go to TortTalk.com and type the name of the Plaintiff in the case in the Search Box in the upper right hand corner of the blog.  There should be a Link to the actual Opinion within the blog post itself.


10. Palmiter v. Commonwealth Health Systems, Inc., No. 19-CV-1315 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Nov. 22, 2019 Nealon, J.)

In a case of first impression, Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed the issue of whether the Medical Marijuana Act creates an implied private cause of action or a medical assistant who was terminated by her health care employers for prescribed use of medical marijuana while not working in her place of employment. The court recognized such a cause of action and allowed the claim to proceed.


9. Lack of Appellate Guidance on Post-Koken Issues Continues



Despite the passage of well over a decade of time since the Koken decision was handed down in 2005, there is still a continuing trend of a lack of any concrete appellate guidance on any of the many novel issues created by this form of litigation from the pleadings stage to trial. The lack of appellate guidance is due to the fact that most of the cases in this area of law continue to be resolved by one form of ADR or another. The hope remains that those cases that do go up the appellate ladder will result in published decisions by the Superior Court and grantings of allocatur by the Supreme Court.

Here is a quick LINK to the Post-Koken Scorecard on Tort Talk.


8. Yanakos v. UPMC, No. 10 WAP 2018 (Pa. Oct. 31, 2019)



The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled in favor of the Plaintiff’s argument that MCARE's statute of repose was unconstitutional. The rationale of the majority Opinion in Yanakos striking down the statute of repose under the MCARE Act was that the statute of repose was not substantially related to a governmental interest as was necessary to uphold the statute. The Court also found that the statute of repose in the MCARE Act violated the Pennsylvania Constitution's guarantee of open access to the Courts.


7. Livingston v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., No. 318 EDA 2017 (Pa. Super. April 29, 2019 Colins, J., Lazarus, J., Kunselman, J.) (Op. by Colins, J.)



In April of 2019, the Pennsylvania Superior Court provided its latest pronouncement on the law on the admissibility of intoxication evidence in civil litigation matters. The Court reiterated the rule of law that evidence of alcohol or drug consumption by a person involved in an accident is admissible only where there is sufficient evidence that reasonably shows intoxication and unfitness to engage in the activity at issue at the time of the accident.


6. Moran v. USAA, No. 3:18-cv-2085 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 14, 2019 Caputo, J.)

The court dismissed a Plaintiff’s bad faith claim without prejudice and leave to amend to correct certain issues with the Complaint. This is one of many Federal Court decisions evidencing a continuing trend towards forcing Plaintiffs’ to avoid conclusory allegations in bad faith matters and instead requiring the pleading of specific acts of alleged bad faith.  There were also a number of decisions handed down over the past year that confirmed that the extension of an alleged low ball offer followed by a settlement or an award of a much higher number does not necessarily equate to bad faith -- click HERE to view those Bad Faith - Low Ball Offer cases.


5. Sawyers v. Davis, 2019 Pa. Super. 219 (Pa. Super. Oct. 22, 2019 Bowes, J., Olson, J., Stabile, J.) (Op. by Bowes, J.) (Olson, J, dissenting)



The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a trial court erred in dismissing the Plaintiff’s personal injury action against a defendant motorist for improper service.  Over the past year, a number of decisions have been handed down at both the trial court and appellate level analyzing the application of the Lamp v. Heyman line of cases and their progeny.  Click HERE to view a compilation of those cases.


4. Davis v. Volkswagen, No. 1405 EDA 2018 (Pa. Super. July 19, 2019 Bowes, J., McLaughlin, J., Stabile, J.) (Op. by McLaughlin, J.)(Stabile, J., Concurring)

The Pennsylvania Superior Court held that the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas did not commit any error in a products liability case when it instructed the jury on both the consumer expectation test and the risk-utility test that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court established in the case of Tincher v. Omega-Flex.  The Superior Court ruled in this fashion even though the Plaintiff only litigated the case under the consumer expectation test. The Court found that, where the defense presented evidence that also implicated the risk-utility test, a jury instruction was warranted in that regard as well.


3. Farese v. Robinson, 2019 Pa. Super. 336 (Pa. Super. Nov. 8, 2019 Lazarus, J., Kunselman, J., Colins, J.)   (Dissenting Op. by Lazarus, J.).



In Farese, the Pennsylvania Superior Court held, in what appears to be the first appellate decision of its kind, that future medical expenses need not be reduced in accordance with Act 6 before being presented to the jury at trial in an auto accident case. This decision did not impact the rule that past medical expenses incurred in motor vehicle accident cases have to be reduced before being presented to a jury.


2. BouSamra v. Excela Health, No. 5 WAP 2015 (Pa. June 18, 2019)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court offered its latest pronouncement on attorney work product issues in June of 2019. The Court addressed the issue of whether a law firm’s sending of pre-litigation emails to a public relations firm served to waive the attorney work-product doctrine, and whether a third party must provide legal advice, or be acting under the control of an attorney or the client, in order to qualify as a privileged person under the doctrine. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded the work product doctrine was not waived by disclosure unless the alleged work product was disclosed to an adversary or disclosed in a manner which significantly increased the likelihood that an adversary or anticipated adversary would obtain it.

1. Gallagher v. GEICO, 201 A.3d 131 (Pa. Jan. 23, 2019)


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the Household Exclusion contained in a Geico policy violated the MVFRL was invalid because it served as a “de facto waiver” of stacked coverage. The Court suggested that its decision in Gallagher not only applied to that case, but should also be read to eradicate the Household Exclusion across the board.  While a number of subsequent Federal Court decisions served to expand the scope of the Gallagher decision, at least one more recent trial court decision (Nationwide v. Ryman) has suggested that the Gallagher decision should be limited to its facts.


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