Monday, December 6, 2021

Recklessness and Punitive Damages Claims Rejected at the Summary Judgment Stage in MVA Case with Insufficient Evidence

In the case of Ceresko v. Keystone Container Service, Inc., No. 18-CV-3361 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Nov. 19, 2021 Nealon, J.), the court addressed a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the defense in a motor vehicle accident case in which the Plaintiff had asserted claims of negligence and recklessness by the driver along with negligence and recklessness by the Defendant-driver’s employer in its hiring, training, and supervision of the driver and in its negligent entrustment of a vehicle to that driver.

In this matter, the Plaintiff alleged claims of negligence against a driver for neglecting to activate his left turn signal when he turned left across the path of the vehicle operated by the Plaintiff, that the Defendant driver failed to yield the right-of-way, that the Defendant driver was driving in excess of the posted speed limit, and that the Defendant driver was operating his vehicle while distracted due to alleged cell phone use.

Before the court were the Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment seeking to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim under an argument that the record evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish a case of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct to justify the claim for punitive damages.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County

Judge Nealon found that, even when reviewing the record in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, there was insufficient direct or circumstantial evidence to support an allegation that the driver was speeding or using a cell phone at the time of the collision. The court also found that there was no proof in the record of the driver’s alleged subjective appreciation and conscious disregard of a risk of harm.

The court additionally found that the evidentiary record also lacked any evidence, either in the form of expert opinion or lay witness testify, of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by the employer Defendant.

Rather, the record before the court only reflected evidence of alleged negligence on the part of the driver and his employer, which evidence was found to be insufficient to sustain any claim for punitive damages based upon any allegations of recklessness. 

As such, the court granted the Defendants’ Partial Motion for Summary Judgment and the punitive damages claims asserted by the Plaintiff against both the driver and the driver’s employer were dismissed.

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

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