Monday, April 18, 2022

Proper Venue Against One Defendant Can Be Proper Venue Against All Defendants

In the case of Hagedorn v. Rick’s Backhoe Service, Inc., No. 18-CV-3723 (C.P. Lacka. Co. April 5, 2022 Nealon, J.), the court addressed an improper venue challenge in a case where a Plaintiff’s attorney was appointed the Administrator of a deceased tortfeasor’s estate.

According to the Opinion, an injured Schuylkill County motorcyclist filed a lawsuit against the Lackawanna County personal representative of a deceased truck driver's estate and a Schuylkill County trucking company regarding a motor vehicle accident that occurred in Berks County. 

The accident allegedly arose out of an alleged road rage incident. The Plaintiff alleged that the truck driver pursued the motorcyclist following an angry exchange of strong language and gestures in a construction zone. The truck driver allegedly struck the rear of the Plaintiff’s motorcycle and ejected the motorcyclist from his motorcycle, resulting in fatal injuries.

The Defendant Administrator of the truck driver's estate and trucking company filed Preliminary Objections challenging venue under Pa. R.C.P. 1006(b) and Pa. R.C.P. 2179(a) on the basis that the trucking company did not regularly conduct business in Lackawanna County as required under the quality/quantity test for corporate venue.

The trucking company also filed a demurrer to the Plaintiff’s allegations of willful, wanton, and reckless conduct on the part of the truck driver, as well as the claims for punitive damages, on the basis that those claims lack a sufficient factual basis.

On the venue issue, the court noted that, since a civil action against a deceased tortfeasor must be filed against the personal representative of the decedent’s estate, and given that the Administrator appointed to the truck driver’s estate was properly served at the Administrator’s law office in Lackawanna County, venue is found to be proper as to that personal representative. 

Judge Nealon additionally noted that, since Pa. R.C.P. 1006(c)(1) provides that an action seeking to enforce joint or joint and several liability against multiple defendants may be brought against all Defendants in any county in which venue may be established against any one of the defendants, and given that the motorcyclist had asserted joint and/or joint and several liability against both the Administrator of the tortfeasor's estate and the trucking company, venue is also found to be proper in Lackawanna County with respect to the trucking company regardless of whether or not the trucking company regularly conducted business in Lackawanna County.

As to the allegations of recklessness and the claims for punitive damages, Judge Nealon followed his numerous previous decisions in allowing such claims to be asserted in any case whatsoever regardless of the facts alleged. The court additionally noted that, even if Rule 1019 did happen to obligate the Plaintiff to allege specific facts sufficient to sustain a punitive damages claim at trial (which this Court did not read Rule 1019 as requiring), the allegations regarding the truck driver’s alleged actions, for which the trucking company would allegedly be vicariously liable, were found to satisfy that standard in any event in this case involving alleged road rage conduct.

As such, all of the Preliminary Objections asserted were overruled.

It is noted that, on pages 13 and 15 of the Opinion, Judge Nealon made references to the dispute in Pennsylvania as to the proper assertion of claims of recklessness in Pennsylvania and, in doing so, noted the Pennsylvania Bar Quarterly article entitled “Pleadings for Clarity: Appellate Guidance Needed to Settle the Issue of the Proper Pleading of Recklessness in Personal Injury Matters” written by Daniel E. Cummins.

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

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