Monday, June 15, 2020

Judge Gibbons Addresses Multiple Issues With Respect to Injury Sustained On Sidelines of Football Game

In the case of Cantafio v. Valley View School District, No. 2018-CV-2991 (C.P. Lacka. Co. May 29, 2020, Gibbons, J.), Judge James A. Gibbons of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas addressed several different issues in a wrongful death and survival action arising from an accident that occurred during a high school football game.

According to the Opinion, a play spilled onto the sideline, as a result of which the adult Plaintiff, who was standing along the sidelines as a team statistician, was struck and caused to fall backwards and land violently on a nearby asphalt surface. The Plaintiff sustained ultimately fatal injuries.

The decedent’s estate filed suit alleging negligence in the design and construction of the high school football stadium. The Plaintiff’s also asserted claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death, and a survival action against multiple Defendants. The original Defendants joined in certain Additional Defendants.

The court was faced with various Preliminary Objections raised by the Defendants with respect to both the Complaint and the Joinder Complaint.

Of note, the court addressed the Defendant high school’s Preliminary Objection asserting that he Plaintiff’s Complaint should be dismissed because the Plaintiff did not provide written notice of the incident to the school district within six (6) months of the incident was required by the law for claims of against the school. The court overruled this objection since the high school admitted that, although formal notice was not provided by the Plaintiff, the school was obviously aware of, and had actual notice of, the incident giving rise to the lawsuit. As such, this case was held to fall under an exception to the six (6) month requirement under the statute since the high school had actual notice of the event.

The court also rejected the high school’s claim that the Plaintiffs’ Complaint should be dismissed under the “No Duty” doctrine given that the decedent knowingly exposed himself to foreseeable injuries which could result from standing on the sideline of a football field, a few feet from where the game was taken place.

While the court noted that the “No Duty” rule provides that a Defendant owes no duty of care to warn, protect, or ensure against risk which are “common, frequent and expected” and “inherent” in an activity, the court overruled this Preliminary Objection after concluding that the risk faced by the Plaintiff, which was the risk of death as a result of a collision with players, which caused the Plaintiff to strike his head on an asphalt curb located near the field of play, was not a risk that could be considered to be common, frequent, or expected to be inherent in the game of football.

The court also overruled the high school’s Preliminary Objection asserting that the school was immune from liability under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act as a local agency as defined by the act. The court stated that a Preliminary Objection is a procedurally improper effort to claim immunity as such claims must be raised under a responsive pleading as “new matter” given that immunity is an affirmative defense under Pa. R.C.P. 1030.

On yet another separate issue addressed in this Opinion, Judge Gibbons also followed the rule in Lackawanna County with respect to claims of recklessness by denying the Preliminary Objections asserted by the Defendant to such claims after finding that, under Pa. R.C.P. 1019, allegations of recklessness, as an allegation pertaining to the state of mind of the actor, can be pled generally.

The court also denied Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiffs’ claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress based upon the fact that the decedent’s son was in the audience at the football game and observed his father’s accident. The court overruled the Preliminary Objections in this regard after finding that the Plaintiff pled sufficient facts to move forward on that claim.

The court also overruled various Preliminary Objections filed by the Additional Defendants after finding that the Joinder Complaints had pled sufficient facts to support the claims of contribution and/or indemnity.

The court also rejected Preliminary Objections by one (1) Defendant who had asserted that it was entitled to have the claims against it arbitrated under an arbitration agreement entered into by that Defendant with the high school Defendant. The court overruled this position after finding that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable in this action where the underlying dispute involved several entities that were not a party to the agreement.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Harry McGrath of the Kingston, Pennsylvania law firm of Fellerman & Ciarimboli for bringing this decision to my attention.

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