Friday, June 2, 2023

Chief Judge Brann of Middle District Federal Court of PA Provides a Definition for Gross Negligence

In the case of Johnson v. Keane Group Holdings, LLC, No. 4:20-CV-00491 (M.D. Pa. May 3, 2023 Brann, C.J.), the court reviewed the definition of “gross negligence.”

In this matter, the court denied summary judgment in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff who was injured in at a well site in the oil and gas industry.

The court noted that the Defendant’s indemnification agreement excluded liability for “gross negligence.”

Chief Judge Brann noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has never precisely defined the term of “gross negligence.”

The Court found the question before it to involve the issue of whether "gross negligence" requires a finding of recklessness on the part of the defendant.  In the end, Judge Brann ruled that "gross negligence" does not required a finding of recklessness.

Judge Brann noted that the difficulty in defining gross negligence arises from the fact that the terms origin is in statutory law rather than common law, which does not recognize degrees of negligence.

Chief Judge Brann stated that gross negligence does not require the intentional indifference or conscious disregard of risks that defines recklessness.

Accordingly, gross negligence was found to require evidence that an actor’s conduct was an extreme departure from the relevant standard of care. However, evidence that the actor acted recklessly is not required for a finding of gross negligence.

The court denied summary judgment in this case given the issues of fact presented on and found that summary judgment was not appropriate on the issue of whether or not the Defendant was grossly negligent under the circumstances presented.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.   The Court's companion Order can be viewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Reed Smith law firm in Philadelphia for bringing this case to my attention.

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