Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Claims of Recklessness Dismissed in Garden Variety Rear End Accident Case

In the case of Castronuovo v. Schwartz, No. C-48-CV-2021-00660 (C.P. Northampt. Co. April 27, 2021 Baratta, J.), Judge Stephen G. Baratta of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas sustained a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections with regards to allegations of recklessness asserted by a Plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident case. The Plaintiff was granted leave to amend.

According to the Opinion, this matter arose out of a rear-end motor vehicle accident. The defense asserted that the allegations in the Plaintiff’s Complaint contain facts that only amounted to ordinary negligence and did not make the threshold of outrageous, wanton, or reckless conduct necessary to support allegations of recklessness.

The court agreed and noted that the Plaintiff had alleged a “garden variety” rear-end collision. See Op. at p. 5.

In response, the Plaintiff asserted that the allegations were sufficiently specific to support a claim of recklessness. In support of this position, the Plaintiff relied upon Archibald v. Kemble, 971 A.2d 513 (Pa. Super. 2009), appeal denied, 989 A.2d 914 (Pa. 2010), for the proposition that recklessness is also known as willful and wanton misconduct and, as such, recklessness is a condition of the mind that may be averred generally pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 1019(b).

Judge Baratta stated that the Plaintiff’s reliance upon Archibald was misplaced. The court emphasized that, in Archibald, the Pennsylvania Superior Court had vacated summary judgment in favor of the Defendant after finding that, even though the Plaintiff’s Complaint did not specifically alleged reckless, the Complaint did assert a factual predicate supporting a claim of recklessness, including allegations of intentional acts on the part of the Defendant. Judge Baratta stated that the Archibald court held that the Plaintiff did allege very specific facts which supported the claims of recklessness, and that, even though the Complaint sounded in general negligence, the court in Archibald noted that recklessness is a specific category of negligence.

Overall, Judge Baratta read the Archibald decision to hold that “recklessness must be pleaded by facts which support the claim, facts which establish wanton and willful conduct, facts beyond mere negligence, and facts indicating a state of mind that ‘is so far from a proper state of mind.’” Judge Baratta stated that “[c]learly, general negligence cannot establish recklessness” under Pennsylvania law. See Op. at 7.

Judge Baratta additionally rejected the Plaintiff’s claims that allegations of recklessness should be allowed so as to preclude a comparative negligence defense by the Defendant if reckless, wanton, or willful misconduct is found by the jury. The court rejected this theory by the Plaintiff by noting that the Plaintiff still must pled the facts to support allegations of wanton or willful misconduct before being able to assert claims of recklessness in a Complaint. Judge Baratta went on to state that “[c]learly, a common automobile accident, in which only balled, general negligence claims are raised, cannot support an allegation of recklessness.” See Op. at 8.

For these reasons, the court sustained a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections against the Plaintiff’s allegations of recklessness in this garden variety rear-end motor vehicle accident case. The court did allow the Plaintiff an opportunity to file an Amended Complaint if there are any additional facts to be pled to “correct this pleading defect.” However, if no Amended Complaint is filed by the Plaintiff, the allegations of recklessness will be considered to have been stricken with prejudice by operation of law.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Wendy R.S. O’Connor of the Allentown, PA office of Marshall Dennehey for bringing this case to my attention.

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