Thursday, February 17, 2022

Claims of Recklessness Again Allowed to Stand in Lackawanna County

In the case of Gawrys v. Zaffino, No. 21-CV-4129 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Feb. 11, 2022 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas allowed a claim for recklessness and a demand for punitive damages to go beyond Preliminary Objections in a premises liability case.

The court ruled in favor of the Plaintiff relative to the claim of recklessness and for punitive damages after noting that Pa. R.C.P. 1019(b) provides that conditions of mind may be averred generally and that, since a claim of recklessness is a claim regarding a condition of mind, that claim may be pled generally under Rule 1019(b).

The court noted that, since the landlord Defendant had not challenged the factual specificity of the allegations supporting the Plaintiff’s stated cause of action, the Preliminary Objection filed by the Defendant that sought to strike the Plaintiff’s general averments of recklessness and the derivative demand for punitive damages would be overruled by the court based upon Rule 1019.

In addressing this issue, the court made reference to the fact that, “During the past decade or more, disputes have arisen as to whether Plaintiffs who allege recklessness and seek punitive damages must state a certain degree of supporting “material facts” to withstand Preliminary Objections, or instead may generally aver such “conditions of [the] mind” in connection with a request for punitive damages.”  See Op. at p. 6 citing with “see” signal, Daniel E. Cummins “Pleading for Clarity: Appellate Guidance Needed to Settle the Issue of the Proper Pleading of Recklessness in Personal Injury Matters,” 93 Pa. B.A.Q. 32 (Jan. 2022).

Judge Nealon noted that, while there are differing Opinions from around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on this issue, the courts in Lackawanna County have uniformly followed the decision of Archibald v. Kemble, 971 A.2d 513, 517 (Pa. Super. 2009), app. denied, 989 A.2d 914 (Pa. 2010), in overruling Preliminary Objections seeking to strike allegations of wanton, willful, or reckless conduct and to dismiss punitive damages claim based upon the alleged absence of substantiating factual allegations, provided that the Complaint generally avers willfulness, wantonness, or recklessness. [Other citations from Lackawanna County omitted].

Relative to other claims presented, the Plaintiff’s claim for “attorneys’ fees” was stricken due legal insufficiency (it is noted that the Plaintiff agreed to this result in its submissions).

The court otherwise overruled the Defendant’s demurrer to the Plaintiff’s claims for prejudgment interest under Pa. R.C.P. 238 and taxable costs pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S.A. §1726 and Lacka. Co. R.Civ. P. 275.

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

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