eNotes: Liability – February 2023 – Pennsylvania
February 01, 2023
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
Pennsylvania Case Summaries
Reibenstein v. Barax
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
No. 32 MAP 2021
Decided: December 12, 2022
The phrase “cause of death,” as used in MCARE Section 513(d), refers specifically to the medical cause of death only, i.e., the physical processes precipitating the death.
Decedent presented to primary care physician complaining of persistent cough, fever and low back pain. Physician ordered aortic ultrasound scan and CT scan of abdominal area that was performed on April 23, 2010. Radiologist reviewed the scans, identified “a poorly visualized aortic aneurysm” and reported the findings to the physician later that day. Physician scheduled Decedent with a vascular surgeon for May 10, 2010, but Decedent died of aneurysm rupture five days later. All parties agreed the death certificate correctly identified the rupture as the cause of death. Administratrix brought death actions against radiologist and hospital claiming radiologist misread the scans and failed to recognize the urgency of Decedent’s condition. Radiologist was not deposed until February 2015. Radiologist testified he personally spoke with physician and informed him of the aneurysm and his concerns of a partial rupture.
Administratrix filed a new death action against the physician. Physician successfully sought summary judgment on the basis of the statute of limitations. The Superior Court reversed and instructed the trial court to consider whether “there was a fraudulent concealment or affirmative misrepresentation of an act” by physician relating to the death. The parties disputed whether the phrase “cause of death” in the MCARE Statute of repose refers to the medical cause of death only or whether the phrase also incorporates legal elements of a cause of death such as acts, omissions or events having some causative connection to the death. Administratrix alleged that radiologist obstructed discovery resulting in the running of the statute of limitations. Physician argued the medical cause of death, i.e., the physical processes that precipitated the death was known to all and therefore the action accrued as of the time of death.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the language of Section 513(d) and its statutory context compel the conclusion that “cause of death” should be understood narrowly to encompass only the accuracy of the medical cause of death noted on the death certificate. The Court emphasized that death invites immediate investigation. In death cases, the accrual of the cause of action happens as a matter of course triggering a would-be plaintiff’s duty of inquiry because death itself is the watershed event satisfying the discovery-of-injury and tortious-causation requirements relative to the discovery rule. The statute of limitations will only be tolled when the cause of death is obscured by some affirmative act or omission that lulled plaintiff into neglecting its duty to investigate to determine whether there was an actionable claim in malpractice.
Questions about this case can be directed to Richard DeFrancesco at (908) 574-0516 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doe v. Hand & Stone Franchise Corp.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 862 EDA 2022 (non-precedential)
Decided: December 14, 2022
The Superior Court addresses statute of limitations, discovery rule, and fraudulent concealment, in sexual assault action.
Plaintiff, Jane Doe (“L.G.”), appealed from an order entered in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia which granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, Hand and Stone Franchise Corporation, et al. Plaintiff commenced a personal injury action on September 30, 2019 via a Writ of Summons. A formal Complaint was filed on November 13, 2019. The Complaint alleged that Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by named Defendant, Steven Waldman, an employee of the Hand and Stone Franchise Corporation on April 9, 2016. Two years later, Plaintiff informed Defendant, Hand and Stone, of the assault subsequent to learning that Defendant Waldman was arrested and criminally charged with sexual assault of other massage therapy clients.
On November 1, 2021, Defendant Hand and Stone filed a Motion for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiff’s Complaint was time barred by the relevant statute of limitations. On February 14, 2022, the Trial Court granted the Motion and dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint. On appeal, Plaintiff argues that the discovery rule and the doctrine of fraudulent concealment tolled the statute of limitations.
The Superior Court noted that under the discovery rule, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the date on which a claimant actually discovers an injury or loss. The Superior Court cited to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5502(a), which states that limitation periods are computed from the time the cause of action accrued. In Pennsylvania, a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff could have first maintained the action to a successful conclusion. Thus, the Superior Court concluded that Plaintiff knew of her injury and its cause on April 9, 2016, and therefore, the Trial Court properly and correctly determined that the discovery rule does not apply as a matter of law and the statute of limitations had run.
Regarding Plaintiff’s fraudulent concealment argument, the Court set forth that a defendant must have committed some affirmative independent act of concealment upon which a plaintiff justifiable relies. The Court reasoned that Plaintiff had two years to investigate Defendants’ role, if any, in causing her injury. Even if Defendants were somehow obligated to disclose events that Plaintiff had not even reported to them, the failure to do so does not excuse Plaintiff’s own failure to conduct any investigation into the Defendants as an additional cause of her injury. Therefore, the doctrine of fraudulent concealment does not operate to toll the statute of limitations under the facts here. Overall, the Superior Court affirmed the ruling of the Trial Court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants.
Questions about this case can be directed to Cameron Kockler at (412) 926-1428 or email@example.com.
Monroe v. CBH20, LP
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 1862 EDA 2019
Decided: November 21, 2022
Allegations of recklessness may be pled generally where the facts specifically pled state a prima facie case of negligence.
Plaintiff brought suit for injuries sustained while zip-lining at Defendant’s resort. Plaintiff’s complaint contained a single count for negligence, but included general allegations of recklessness throughout the complaint. Defendant did not preliminarily object to the specificity or legal sufficiency of allegations of recklessness. Defendant instead raised an Activity Release and Agreement Not to Sue which Plaintiff signed before zip-lining. Defendant’s initial Motion for summary judgment claiming the Release was a complete bar to the negligence claim was denied because the Trial Court ruled that the exculpatory clause does not release liability arising from recklessness. Just prior to jury selection, Defendant filed a Motion for judgment on the pleadings and a Supplemental Motion for summary judgment contending that Plaintiff’s Complaint failed to plead sufficient facts to support the allegations of recklessness. These Motions were granted and Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed.
On appeal, a divided Superior Court panel affirmed the Trial Court’s Order granting judgment on the pleadings, holding that Plaintiff’s Complaint contained insufficient factual averments to support a finding of recklessness. Following re-argument en banc, the per curiam Opinion reversed. First, the Court observed that gross negligence and recklessness are states of mind and are forms of negligence, not independent causes of action. As such, a plaintiff may plead gross negligence and recklessness generally. The Court held that Plaintiff’s allegations of negligence and general allegations of recklessness were sufficiently specific under the rules. So long as plaintiff’s complaint specifically alleges facts to state a prima facie case of negligence, and also alleges that the defendant acted recklessly, the latter state of mind issue can only be resolved after discovery has closed. In reversing the summary judgment, the Court found that the Trial Court’s disregard of Plaintiff’s expert witness report as being only an exhibit to a Brief in opposition and not part of the “official” record was error. The expert report, which created a record with genuine issues of material fact as to Defendant’s recklessness, should have been considered because parties are permitted to supplement the record in response to a motion for summary judgment.
The Superior Court reversed and remanded the judgment of the Trial Court, holding that Plaintiff’s Complaint sufficiently pled the state of mind of recklessness to defeat the Motion for judgment on the pleadings, and that the evidence of record created genuine issues of material fact to preclude summary judgment.
Questions about this case can be directed to James F. Swartz, III at (610) 332-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.