eNotes: Liability – May 2022 – Pennsylvania
May 02, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
PA CASE SUMMARIES
Mwambu v. Monroeville Volunteer Fire Co.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
No. 1128 CD 2020
Decided: March 14, 2022
Court affirms Trial Court Order compelling Defendant to produce claim notes, finding that the attorney-client privilege and protections afforded by Rule 4003.3 did not apply.
Plaintiff filed a negligence action against Defendant volunteer ambulance company alleging that he suffered injury when struck by an ambulance as he was jogging in a crosswalk. During discovery, Defendant produced claims notes with a corresponding privilege log. About 80% of the claim notes had been redacted. The privilege log provided identified the privileges asserted by Defendant, including attorney-client privilege, mental impressions, work product, evaluations, theories, litigation strategy, relevance, and personal/confidential information. Plaintiff’s counsel challenged many of the redactions, arguing that relevance “is not the standard for discovery,” and that there are no privileges for “a non-attorney’s work product” or “personal/confidential information.” Plaintiff then filed a Motion compelling Defendant to produce a copy of the claim notes “with only ‘opinions as to the merit or value of a claim’ redacted.” During a hearing on the Motion, Defendant’s counsel argued that most of the redactions protected either the insurer’s own comments on the litigation, or summaries of discussions the insurer had with counsel. The Trial Court then conducted an in-camera review of the unredacted claim notes. Following the review, the Court entered an Order directing Defendant to produce a copy of the claim notes with only five specific redactions. Defendant filed a Motion for reconsideration which was denied without argument and subsequently filed an interlocutory appeal.
On appeal, the Court found that an examination of the unredacted disputed records revealed no evidence that the claim notes were intended to be, or functioned as, communications to counsel, or anything other than the adjuster’s synopses of the status of the claim and his discussions with counsel. Accordingly, the attorney-client privilege did not protect these claim notes. The Court then explained Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 4003.3, specifically as it relates to the work product of non-attorneys. The Court found that the remainder of the redactions, with the exception of the five redactions, did not fall under the protection of 4003.3. These claim notes dealt with calendar updates, conflict checks, summaries of legal arguments and underlying facts, statements made by employees of Defendant, and information about the terms of the insurance policy. Ultimately, the Court affirmed the Trial Court’s Order.
Questions about this case can be directed to Jillian Denicola at (570) 825-5653 or email@example.com.
Dobransky v. EQT Prod. Co.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 900 WDA 2019, 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 158
Decided: April 11, 2022
Entry of summary judgment vacated as Defendant contractor did not demonstrate that it qualified as the injured party’s statutory employer under the Worker’s Compensation Act.
Plaintiff was injured due to exposure to barite at Scott’s Run, a gas site leased and operated by EQT. When Plaintiff was unloading barite into a storage tank owned by HESI, the cap blew off and barite was released onto Plaintiff. EQT had subcontracted with HESI to perform services related to drilling and hydraulic fracturing. HESI provided EGT with mud services. HESI collected necessary raw materials to have the mud blended and stored at the EQT site. HESI contracted with Northwest Concrete Products to transport “goods or materials tendered by [HESI] or any supplier of [HESI] to and from the origin and/or destination points . . . as designed by [HESI].” Northwest was also responsible for loading and unloading the materials that it transported for HESI. Plaintiff was an employee of Northwest as a truck driver at the time of injury.
Plaintiff alleged negligence against HESI and EQT for the exposure to barite. EQT and HESI moved for summary judgment arguing that they were immune from suit as they were Plaintiff’s statutory employer under the Workman’s Compensation Act. HESI argued that it was Plaintiff’s statutory employer because “it contracted with Northwest . . . ’to have work performed of a kind which is a regular or recurrent part of the business, occupation, profession, or trade of HESI.’” EQT argued that because it was in vertical contractual privity with HESI and Northwest it too qualified as Plaintiff’s statutory employer.
The Trial Court granted summary judgment based on the statutory employer defense. The injured party appealed. A divided panel of the Superior Court vacated the Trial Court’s Order and remanded for further proceedings. The majority held that EQT and HESI did not qualify as statutory employer because HESI only contracted with Plaintiff’s employer to have work performed regarding transportation and unloading of products. EQT and HESI filed an application for reargument en banc, asking the Superior Court to specifically address the Section 302(a)(2) argument under the Act. The panel decision was then withdrawn.
HESI and EQT were not entitled to summary judgment pursuant to Section 302(a)(1)(i) because Plaintiff’s employer contracted with HESI only for transportation and product unloading not “the removal, excavation or drilling or soil, rock or minerals.” HESI and EQT were not entitled to summary judgment pursuant to Section 302(a)(2) because they did not indisputably demonstrate that they qualify as Plaintiff’s statutory employer when Northwest was only contracted to provide the transportation and unloading of barite.
Questions about this case can be directed to Hannah Molitoris at (267) 861-7589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting v. Mark Sales & Leasing, Inc.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 348 MDA 2021
Decided: April 7, 2022
COVID-19 judicial declaration of emergency did not suspend Plaintiffs’ rights to delay damages.
Plaintiff brought suit for injuries sustained while operating a riding lawn mower leased from Defendant. The case proceeded to trial during the COVID-19 pandemic from August 30, 2020 to September 4, 2020. On the second day of trial, a juror notified the court of a potential exposure to someone who had been diagnosed with COVID. After consulting with the remaining jurors and counsel, the court dismissed the juror and the jury agreed to return the following day to continue with the trial. Defendant’s corporate representative chose to not return for the rest of the trial due to fear for his and his wife’s health issues. Without citing any rule of procedure, rule of evidence or any constitutional provisions, Defendant requested a mistrial. The Trial Court denied the mistrial Motion and the trial proceeded to a verdict in favor of the Plaintiffs and against the Defendant. Plaintiff sought delay damages under Pa.R.Civ.P. 238.
In Post-trial Motions, Defendant raised for the first time a rule of procedure, a rule of evidence and various constitutional provisions and argued that the Trial Court erred in denying the Motion for mistrial. On appeal, the Court ruled that Defendant had waived its argument that the Trial Court erred relative to the mistrial, because no legal theories served as the basis for the motion for mistrial at the time of trial. On the issue of delay damages, Defendant argued that the time during which the courts were closed due to COVID-19 should not count towards delay damages. Rule 238 does not allow for the exclusion of periods of delay not caused by either party. As the judicial emergency was not created by either party, the time between the declaration of the judicial emergency and the date of the verdict was not to be excluded from the calculation of delay damages. The Court ruled that based upon the intent of Rule 238, COVID-19 and the judicial emergency it created did not diminish Plaintiff’s right to be made whole, nor did it prohibit Defendant from making reasonable settlement offers to help alleviate the court dockets.
The Superior Court affirmed the judgment of the Trial Court, holding that delay damages under Rule 238 continued to run during the 2020 judicial emergency.
Questions about this case can be directed to James F. Swartz, III at (610) 332-7028 or email@example.com.
Baumbach v. Lafayette Coll.
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 212 EDA 2021, 2022 Pa. Super. 40
Decided: March 4, 2022
Trial Court erred in dismissing guardians’ claims against college and crew team coaches for negligence and intentional misrepresentation.
Aubrey Baumbach was a member of the Lafayette College crew team. The crew team’s boathouse was located approximately two miles from campus. The boathouse was only accessible via Lehigh Drive which has a speed limit of 45 miles per hour, but vehicles commonly exceed the speed limit. The walk from campus to the team’s boathouse did not have sidewalks. The coaches often required freshman team members to run from campus along Lehigh Drive, instructing them to run in a single-file line and watch for cars. The coaches were aware that shortly before the start of the 2013 school year an accident occurred on Lehigh Drive whereby a vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian walking along the road.
On November 8, 2013, Aubrey arrived for practice at the boathouse in a teammate’s car, but the teammate was unable to park in the usual lot adjacent to the boathouse and parked in a remote lot on Lehigh Drive. After practice, it was dark and Aubrey with her teammates walked single-file along Lehigh Drive to the car, when Aubrey was struck by a drunk driver causing her to sustain serious and lifelong injuries. Robert and Lisa Baumbach, as guardians of their incapacitated daughter Aubrey, filed suit against the Lafayette Defendants asserting claims of negligence and intentional misrepresentation. Plaintiffs appealed the Trial Court’s decision granting the Lafayette Defendants’ Motion for judgment on the pleadings on the basis that Plaintiffs failed to establish a duty of care owed to Aubrey, and Aubrey did not rely on the Lafayette Defendants’ representations of the safety of walking or running along Lehigh Drive.
The Superior Court reversed and held that the allegations asserted by Plaintiffs demonstrate that the Lafayette Defendants undertook the duty to provide the team members with a safe environment, including a safe and accessible parking to attend practice. The Court further held that Plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to establish a prima facia claim that Aubrey justifiably relied on the representations regarding the safety of Lehigh Drive.
Questions about this case can be directed to Danielle Vols at (570) 825-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atl. States Ins. Co. v. Green
Pennsylvania Superior Court of
No. 877 MDA 2021, 2022 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 452
Decided: February 17, 2022
Superior Court holds “household” exclusion enforceable when (1) the vehicle is not listed on the policy, and (2) the insured waived stacking on the vehicle.
This case arises from an appeal of the Court’s grant of Plaintiff Atlantic States’ Motion for summary judgment, holding that the “household” exclusion is enforceable where the insured’s vehicle is not listed on the policy, and the insured waived stacking coverage on the vehicle. Plaintiff Atlantic States filed a declaratory judgment action seeking judgment that the “household” exclusion in the auto policy was enforceable and Atlantic States did not owe underinsured motorist coverage to Defendant. In the subject accident, Defendant’s husband was operating a motorcycle insured by Progressive. Under the Progressive policy, the decedent had validly waived UIM coverage. Decedent also maintained an auto insurance policy with Atlantic, which had stacked UIM coverage; the decedent’s motorcycle was not insured under the Atlantic policy.
The Court determined that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision in Gallagher v. GEICO did not invalidate the “household” exclusion in all cases, but rather held that the “household” exclusion was unenforceable “only where it acts as a de facto waiver of stacked coverage in the absence of a valid rejection form.”
The Court affirmed the Trial Court’s decision, holding that the “household” exclusion is not per se invalid and is enforceable when (1) the vehicle is not listed on the policy, and (2) the insured waived stacking on the vehicle.
Questions about this case can be directed to Katherine Prudente at (267) 861-7571 or email@example.com.
Artisan Builders, Inc. v. Jang
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 47 EDA 2021, 2022 Pa. Super. 36
Decided: February 9, 2022
Superior Court addresses distinction between quantum meruit and unjust enrichment in action between contractor and homeowner.
Plaintiff Artisan Builders initially filed suit seeking payment for additional work performed beyond the scope of the kitchen renovation contract between the parties. The additional work involved flooring, bedrooms, crawlspace, multiple doors, and structural joists. This resulted in five base contracts, and eighteen change orders. Defendant Jang was aware of the performance of the work, and the work was performed with Jang’s permission. Before work was completed on Jang’s residence, Artisan was fired. Artisan sought damages for breach of contract and quantum meruit. The Trial Court ruled for Defendant, holding that although Artisan showed their losses, they failed to show the value of the benefit conferred to Jang.
Artisan then filed post-trial motions which were denied, and the Court entered judgment in Defendant’s favor.
The Superior Court reversed and remanded. The Court agreed with the Trial Court that Artisan was not entitled to prevail on a breach of contract claim, because there was no valid contract between the parties. The Superior Court held that the trial erred in applying an unjust enrichment standard of “benefit conferred” to the claim of quantum meruit instead of the appropriate “reasonable value of services provided.” Here, the Trial Court found Jang approved and agreed to pay for services requested and completed, thus credibility or opposing testimony were not at issue. The Superior Court held that the Trial Court erred by not allowing Artisan to submit their own losses and remanded to determine the reasonable value of services provided.
Questions about this case can be directed to Logan Nagle at (717) 255-7234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.