Monday, February 17, 2020

Plaintiff Precluded From Testifying as to Defendant's Speed Where Only Saw Vehicle a Split Second Before Impact

In the case of Berklovich v. Quarrick, No. 2567-CV-2018 (C.P. Westmoreland Co. 2020 Scherer, J.), the court granted a defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and dismissed a Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages based upon allegations of excessive speed and cell phone use by the defendant during a motor vehicle accident.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff was rear ended and, as a result, her vehicle was propelled forward across two lanes of traffic.

After discovery, the defense filed a partial motion for summary judgment seeking a dismissal of the punitive damages claims.  The court granted the motion.

While the court agreed that driving at an excessive rate of speed and using a cell phone could constitute conduct sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages, the court also found that the Plaintiff had not presented sufficient evidence to support such a claim.

The court noted that the only testimony on the speed of the defendant's vehicle was from the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff admitted that she only saw the defendant's vehicle a split second before the impact.  Relying upon the case of Guzman v. Bloom, 198 A.2d 499, 502 (Pa. 1964) and the case of Anderson v. Perta, 10 A.2d 898 (Pa.Super. 1940), the court ruled that observing the defendant's vehicle for such a short amount of time before the accident did not lay a proper foundation for the Plaintiff to offer her lay opinion as to the speed of the defendant's vehicle.

On the issue of the defendant's cell phone use, the court noted that the Plaintiff did not secure the defendant's cell phone records or otherwise present evidence to confirm that the defendant was using his phone at the time of the accident.  The court rejected the Plaintiff's effort to rely upon an allegation in the Complaint that the defendant was unconscious after the accident and had no recollection of whether he was on his cell phone at the time of the accident or not.

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Joseph Hudock of the Pittsburgh office of the Summers, McDonnell, Hudock, Guthrie & Rauch, P.C. for bringing this decision to my attention.

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