Friday, August 28, 2020

Generalized Allegations of Cell Phone Usage At Time of Accident Insufficient to Support Punitive Damages Claims

In the case of Wilson v. Matas, No. 10067 of 2020, C.A. (C.P. Lawrence Co. June 3, 2020 Motto, P.J.), the court sustained Preliminary Objections filed by Defendant in a motor vehicle accident case containing claims of punitive damages based, in part, on a suggestion that the Defendant had been using a cell phone at the time of the accident.

This matter involved a rear-end accident. According to the Complaint, the Defendant had allegedly admitted to the police at the scene of the accident that she had not been paying attention at the time of the collision occurred. The Plaintiff also generally alleged that the Defendant was using an electronic device at the time of the accident.

However, the court pointed out that the Plaintiff merely alleged that the Defendant may have been using her cell phone at the time of the accident and did not contain any specific facts to demonstrate the Defendant was actually utilizing a cell phone.

As such, the court dismissed the punitive damages claims in this regard.

On an unrelated issue, the court did allow claims of negligence per se to proceed under specific allegations asserted by the Plaintiff that the Defendant was following the Plaintiff’s vehicle too closely at the time of the accident.

The court otherwise overruled the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections regarding allegations in the Complaint about the Defendant’s statements to the police officer following the accident. The court ruled that an out of court statement offered to explain a course of conduct was not inadmissible hearsay. The court also noted that a statement by a party opponent could be admitted under the evidentiary rules.

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (August 4, 2020).

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