Monday, August 24, 2020

Split of Authority on Propriety of Allegations of Recklessness in the Absence of Supporting Facts Continues

The split of authority continues with respect to how Pennsylvania trial courts are viewing what level of pleading is necessary to support a claim of recklessness in a personal injury matter.  One line of that authority holds that anyone can claim recklessness in any case whatsoever regardless of the facts presented.

Under a second line of authority, such as those decisions out of Monroe County and other counties, trial court judges are heeding to the well-settled principle that Pennsylvania is a fact-pleading state and that sufficient facts of an outrageous nature are necessary to support claims of recklessness in a personal injury Complaint.

In his recentl decision in the case of Yockey v. Pocono Market Place, LLC, No. 8733-CV-2019 (C.P. Monroe Co. Aug. 3, 2020 Zulick, J.), Judge Arthur L. Zulick of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas sustained a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to allegations of gross negligence and recklessness in a Plaintiff’s trip and fall Complaint and struck those allegations from the matter.

More specifically, the court held that the Plaintiff “failed to plead material facts in support of such allegations” of recklessness and gross negligence.   See Op. at p. 2. 

The court emphasized that Pennsylvania is a fact-pleading state and that pleadings must summarize those facts essential to support the claims asserted and in order to allow the opposing party to properly raise and assert defenses. 

In this matter, the Plaintiffs alleged in their Amended Complaint that the Plaintiff was injured due to a cracked and uneven walking surface that resulted in “dangerous conditions.” The Plaintiff asserted that the Defendants’ “negligence, gross negligence, carelessness, and recklessness” allowed such a condition to exist. 

The court specifically noted in its Opinion that the Plaintiffs alleged no facts specific to the claims of gross negligence or recklessness. 

Judge Zulick additionally stated that the Plaintiffs’ description of the walking surface alone did not suggest why the Defendants were grossly negligent or reckless. The court emphasized that additional facts were necessary as a matter of law because allegations of gross negligence and recklessness required different factual support than the claim of mere negligence. 

The court also rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that discovery is required to determine the facts to support the claims of gross negligence and/or recklessness. Judge Zulick stated that a Plaintiff must aver specific facts in the Complaint to support the claims. He  emphasized that plaintiffs “are not permitted to file a claim in the hopes that exploratory discovery will reveal a claim.”  See Op. at 6. 

In light of the reasons noted above, the court sustained the Defendants’ Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint and struck the allegations of gross negligence and recklessness. 

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

I send thanks to Attorney Joseph A. Murphy of the Scranton, Pennsylvania office of Bardsley, Benedict & Cholden, LLP, for bringing this case to my attention.

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