Friday, February 17, 2023

Punitive Damages Claims Scratched Out of Bedbugs Case

In the case of Skillman v. Patel, No. CV-22-00444 (C.P. Lyc. Co. Dec. 19, 2022 Linhardt, J.), Judge Eric R. Linhardt of the Lycoming Court of Common Pleas sustained a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections filed against punitive damages claims in a case against an owner of a motel under a claim of infestation of the Plaintiff’s motel room with bed bugs. According to the Opinion, the Plaintiff had stayed at the hotel for twelve (12) days and began experiencing symptoms from the alleged issue with bed bugs.

Relative to the punitive damages claims, the Defendant asserted that the facts pled by the Plaintiff in the Complaint only rose to the level of negligence, which the Defendant asserted was insufficient to support a claim for punitive damages.

While the Plaintiff agreed that a plaintiff must allege evidence that goes beyond a mere showing of negligence in order to proceed on a punitive damages claim, the Plaintiff asserted that trial courts should generally not dismiss claims for punitive damages at the Preliminary Objections stage, but rather, allow for discovery on the issues presented.

The trial court emphasized that Pennsylvania is a fact-pleading state and that, therefore, in order to proceed on a punitive damages claims, a plaintiff must aver that a defendant’s conduct was outrageous or was intentional, willful, wanton, or reckless.  Judge Linhardt noted that, where such allegations are missing, a Complaint is legally insufficient relative to a claim for punitive damages.

The court rejected the Plaintiff’s argument that punitive damages claims should generally be allowed to proceed into discovery. 

The court noted that the applicable pleading requirements are set forth in Pa. R.C.P. 1017-1034 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. Judge Linhardt stated that, if it were improper for a court to assess the adequacy of punitive damages claims prior to discovery, then Pennsylvania’s pleading requirements set forth in the above rules would effectively cease to apply to such claims. 

The court stated the Plaintiff had provided no legal authority in support of its position that punitive damages claims should not be assessed at the pleadings stage. 

Turning the merits of the argument, the court noted that the Plaintiff did not plead facts sufficient to support any conclusion that the Defendants’ alleged conduct went beyond mere negligence. Finding that no outrageous conduct was asserted by the Plaintiff in the Complaint, the court sustained the Defendant's demurrer to the punitive damages claims.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Gerald Connor of the Scranton, Pennsylvania office of the Margolis Edelstein law firm for bringing this case my attention.

Source of image:  Photo by Zulian Firmansyah on

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