Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Judge Nealon of Lackawanna County Gives Guidance on Complaint Drafting

In the case of Baigis v. Thomas-Cooper, No. 2023-CV-2324 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Feb. 16, 2024 Nealon, J.), Judge Terrence R. Nealon of the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas continued the trend of trial courts and appellate courts overruling Preliminary Objections in the form of demurrers to claims of reckless conduct in motor vehicle accident matters where negligence has been alleged.

The rationale of these decisions remains that, under the express terms of Pa. R.C.P. 1019(a), a condition of the mind, such as an allegation of recklessness, may be averred generally in the pleadings.  As such, the demurrer by the Defendant to the claims of recklessness in this Baigis case was overruled.

In reviewing this issue, the court in Baigis referred to the analysis of the prior jurisprudence in this regard as set forth in “Pleading for Clarity: Appellate Guidance Needed to Settle the Issue of the Proper Pleading of Recklessness in Personal Injury Matters,” by Daniel E. Cummins, 93 Pa. B.A.Q. 32 (Jan 2022).

In another part of the decision, the court also overruled the demurrer asserted by the Defendants against a separate claim for punitive damages asserted by the Plaintiff.   While the court overruled the Defendant’s demurrer against the Plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages, the court did sustain an alternative objection to the Plaintiff’s listing of the punitive damages claims as separate counts in the Complaint. 

The court pointed to previous precedent confirming that a request for punitive damages does not constitute a cause of action in and of itself, but rather, is merely an incidental claim relative to a separate cause of action. Judge Nealon also noted that the appellate courts have otherwise stated that “no independent action exists for a claim of punitive damages since punitive damages is only an element of damages.”

This decision is also notable for the fact that the court ruled that since the mere issuance of a summary offense citation to a motorist as a result of a motor vehicle accident is not admissible in a civil action arising out of the same accident, a preliminary objection to the reference in the Complaint to the summary offense citations allegedly issued to the Defendant motorist should be sustained and such allegations stricken as impertinent matter under Pa. R.C.P. 1028(a)(2).

The court otherwise ruled that the Plaintiff’s separate allegations that the Defendant violated certain unidentified statutes, ordinances, or regulations would be sustained under Pa. R.C.P. 1028(a)(3) and Lackawanna County Local Rule 1019. The court did allow the Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint in which the Plaintiff would have to provide specific citations for any alleged statutes, ordinances, or regulations allegedly violated by the Defendant.

Lastly, the court additionally sustained the Defendant’s Preliminary Objection under rule 1028(a)(3) to the Plaintiff’s bald allegations of actionable conduct “as shall be revealed in discovery.” The court found that these types of allegations were improper under the fact-pleading requirements of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.