Thursday, March 18, 2021

Allegations of Recklessness Stricken From Complaint Regarding Head-On Collision

In the case of Hilferding v. Zinn, No. 2020-SU-002187 (C.P. York Co. March 5, 2021 Flannelly, J.), the court sustained in part and overruled in part the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to a Plaintiff’s Complaint in a motor vehicle accident case.

Notably, the court sustained a Defendant’s objections the Plaintiff’s claims of recklessness or wantonness stated in the Complaint.

According to the Opinion, this matter arose out a tragic motor vehicle accident. In their Complaint, the Plaintiffs asserted that the injuries and damages sustained by the Plaintiff were the result of negligent, careless, wanton, and reckless manner in which the Defendant driver operated her motor vehicle. 

The Defendant filed Preliminary Objections, in part, arguing that the Plaintiff had failed to sufficiently pled a claim for wantonness or recklessness.

In the Complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant driver left her lane of travel and struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle in a head-on fashion. There were no allegations of cell phone use or other aggravating factors set forth in the Plaintiff’s Complaint.

The Plaintiff asserted that they should be permitted to pled recklessness because, if they prevailed on this claim at trial, then the Defendant would be barred from raising the affirmative defense of contributory negligence at trial. The Plaintiffs also asserted that, under Pennsylvania law, although they were required to pled material facts in a Complaint, they should be allowed to generally plead allegations of intent, knowledge, and conditions of the mind. The Plaintiff contended that an allegation of recklessness is an allegation that the Defendant acted with recklessness indifference to the rights of others and, therefore, as an allegation of a condition of the mind, was allowed to be pled generally.

The Plaintiffs additionally asserted that, by failing to keep control of her car in order to stay in her own lane of travel, the Defendant driver created a high degree of risk of physical harm to another which, in the mind of the Plaintiff, constituted reckless behavior.

After reviewing Pennsylvania law regarding the standard for reckless conduct, the court noted that the standard required the Plaintiff to make a showing that goes beyond an allegation of negligence or even gross negligence.

Here, the Plaintiff alleged that the Defendant driver left her lane of travel, entered the Plaintiff’s lane of travel, and struck the Plaintiff’s vehicle in a head-on fashion due to the Defendant’s failure to keep alert and maintain a proper watch for the presence of other vehicles.  

The Court held that allegations that the Defendant driver failed to stay within her lane of travel while traveling at an unsafe speed did not rise to the level of recklessness or wantonness. Rather, these allegations were found only to constitute a showing of ordinary negligence.

As such, the court granted the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to the Plaintiff’s allegations of wanton and reckless conduct. However, the Plaintiff was granted the right to amend the Complaint if the Plaintiff desired to attempt to state a valid claim of recklessness in an Amended Complaint.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Kevin T. McGarry of the Lancaster, PA law office of Post & Schell, P.C., for bringing this case to my attention.

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