Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Allegations of Recklessness Allowed to Proceed in Northampton County Car Accident Case

In the case of Speight v. Schlacter, No. C-48-CV-2019-6973 (C.P. Northampton Co. Jan. 28, 2020 Murray, J.), the court addressed Preliminary Objections filed by a Defendant in a motor vehicle accident case relative to allegations of recklessness in a motor vehicle accident Complaint.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff alleged in her Complaint that the Defendant failed to stop at a stop sign and crashed into the Plaintiff’s vehicle.

On one issue, the defense contested the Plaintiff’s allegations that the Defendant was driving “recklessly.”

The defense noted that, under Pennsylvania law, recklessness or wanton disregard requires a showing that the actor knew or had reason to know of facts which created a high degree of risk of physical harm to another person and that the actor deliberately proceeded to act, or failed to act, in conscious disregard of, or indifference to, that risk.  The defense asserted that the Plaintiff did not allege any facts related to the Defendant’s knowledge or facts related to the Defendant’s alleged deliberate indifference.

In response, the Plaintiff attempted to differentiate between allegations of recklessness and negligence. The Plaintiff also noted that, under Pa. R.C.P. 1019(b) “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of mind may be averred generally.”

The court also emphasized that, in this matter, the Plaintiff was not seeking punitive damages in the Complaint.

In the end, the court overruled the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in this regard under a rationale that allegations of recklessness may be pled generally.

This decision continues the split of authority amongst the trial courts, with some courts requiring plaintiffs to plead facts of outrageous or intentional conduct by the defendant (something beyond mere negligence), and other courts allowing Plaintiff's to plead recklessness in any case whatsoever regardless of the facts alleged.

The defense in this Speight case also objected to the Plaintiff’s inclusion in the Complaint the phrase “included but not limited to” with respect to the Plaintiff’s alleged injuries.

The court noted that the inclusion of the term “including but not limited to” is not prohibited under Pennsylvania law as amendments to the Complaint could be made at a later date if such an amendment only amplifies what has already been pled in the Complaint. As such, the court overruled the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in this regard as well.

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Ed Shaughnessy of Shaughnessy Law Office in Easton, PA for bringing this case to my attention.

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