Monday, May 9, 2022

Motion To Dismiss Punitive Damages Claim Granted Where Evidence of Recklessness Was Lacking in "Run-of-the-Mill Intersectional Collision" Case

In the case of Barbarevech v. Tomlinson, No. 18-CV-4821 (C.P. Lacka. Co. March 25, 2022 Nealon, J.), the court addressed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed by a Defendant in a motor vehicle accident case seeking to dismiss punitive damages asserted against the Defendant on the ground that the evidence presented by the Plaintiff was insufficient as a matter of law to sustain the Plaintiff’s claims of recklessness.

The employer Defendant also sought to dismiss the Plaintiffs’ direct liability claim for negligent hiring, training, and supervision of the employee under an argument that the employer’s admission that the employee was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident.

Relative to the punitive damages claims, after noting that there was no evidence in the record that the Defendant driver was speeding, driving while impaired or distracted by cell phone use, or otherwise engaged in unreasonable conduct manifesting a conscious disregard of a known or obvious risk posing a high probability of harm to others, the court granted the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the claim for punitive damages.

The court additionally noted that, based upon the facts of this “run-of-the-mill intersectional collision,” the Plaintiffs’ expert was not permitted to express a legal opinion that the Defendant driver was chargeable with “reckless indifference” as defined by Pennsylvania law, particularly since the record did not contain an adequate basis in fact for that opinion.

The court also rejected the Plaintiffs’ attempt to assert that the Defendant employer’s post-accident investigation of the collision did not cause or contribute to the accident or the harm that the Plaintiff had suffered and, as such, could not serve as a basis for the Plaintiff’s punitive damages claims. Judge Nealon otherwise stated that there was no other evidence in the record that the Defendant employer acted in a willful, wanton, or reckless manner.

As such, the Motion to Dismiss the Punitive Damages Claim was granted.

On the separate claim of direct employer liability for the alleged negligence in selecting, training, and supervising employees and their activities, the court allowed this claim to proceed after finding that Pennsylvania case law provides that a Plaintiff may pursue such a claim against an employer on theories of direct and vicarious liability, either at the same time or alternately, and Plaintiffs need not surround a direct liability claim against the employer if the employer acknowledges an agency relationship with the employee. As such, the employer’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with regards to the independent claim for negligent hiring, training, and supervision was denied.

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

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