Monday, October 9, 2023

Trial Court Rules That Claim of Recklessness Must Be Supported By Facts (Monroe v. CBH2O Decision Not Cited)

In the case of Keefer v. Basinger, No. 68 of 2023 G.D. (Fay. Co. May 17, 2023 Cordaro, J.), the court addressed Preliminary Objections asserted by a Defendant against allegations of recklessness and punitive damages claims asserted in a case involving a pedestrian who was struck by a vehicle.

Relative to the punitive damages claims, the court confirmed that, under Pennsylvania law, punitive damages can only be awarded in cases where a Defendant’s conduct is deemed to be outrageous or demonstrates willful, wanton, or reckless behavior.

The court found that the facts presented in the Complaint, which included allegations of the Defendant driving at an unsafe speed and failing to apply the brakes in times, did not meet the threshold for punitive damages.  Rather, such claims were found to only rise to the level of ordinary negligence.  As such, the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in this regards sustained.

On the separate issues raised with respect to the allegations of recklessness, the trial court in Fayette County noted that Pennsylvania follows a fact-pleading approach, meaning that a Plaintiff is required by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and Pennsylvania law to allege essential facts to support their claims presented.

Judge Cordaro noted that, while the Plaintiff argued in favor of a right to plead recklessness in general under Pennsylvania law, the court found that, in Fayette County, specific facts must be pled to support recklessness.

In this case, because the Plaintiff only alleged that the Defendant allegedly illegally drove at an unsafe speed, failed to exercise proper control of her vehicle, and failed to adequately apply the brakes in time to avoid a collision with the pedestrian Plaintiff, the court found that the Plaintiff’s allegations did not meet the standard for reckless behavior. 

As such, the court sustained the Defendant’s Preliminary Objections in this regard.

The court permitted the Plaintiff thirty (30) days to amend the Complaint.

Notably, this decision in Keefer v. Basinger was handed down long after the Pennsylvania Superior Court's decision in Monroe v. CBH2O, LP, 286 A.3d 785 (Pa. Super. Nov. 21, 2022)(en banc)(per curiam), in which an en banc panel of Superior Court Judges ruled that allegations of recklessness may be pled generally so long as a plaintiff also specifically alleges facts to state a prima facie claim for the tort of negligence (but see the cogent dissenting opinions issued by Judge Stabile and Judge Bender in support of the argument that, given that Pennsylvania is a fact-pleading state, outrageous facts must be pled to support a claim of recklessness).  

The Monroe decision was not cited or mentioned in this Keefer v. Basinger decision.  The court noted in its decision that the Plaintiff argued at oral argument that there was no appellate decision on the issue of recklessness.  The date of oral argument was not noted in the opinion.  The Plaintiff instead relied upon a review of the trial court decisions existing at the time.

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

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Sept. 19, 2023).

Source of image:  Photo by Leeloo thefirst on

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