eNotes: Liability – June 2023 – Pennsylvania
June 01, 2023
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
Pennsylvania Case Summaries
Franczyk v. The Home Depot, Inc.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
No. 11 WAP 2022
Decided: April 19, 2023
The exclusivity provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act precludes an employee from pursuing a tort claim against her employer, despite affirmative conduct that impedes the employee’s ability to seek relief against a third party.
Plaintiff (employee) was working at a Home Depot store when she was bitten by a customer’s dog. She reported the incident to her supervisors, who allegedly barred her from contacting the dog owner or any other witnesses. The supervisors spoke to several customers about the incident when it occurred, but did not obtain any contact or identifying information of the witnesses or dog owner. As a result of the dog bite, Plaintiff alleged injury and claimed and received workers’ compensation benefits. Plaintiff subsequently sued her employer and her supervisors, asserting that their acts and omissions denied her the opportunity to file a third-party suit against the dog owner. Specifically, she alleged that the failure to adequately investigate the incident and obtain identifying information from witnesses prevented her from pursuing a claim. The Defendant-employer moved for summary judgment, claiming immunity under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision, which precludes civil suits against employers for workplace injuries. The Trial Court denied the Motion and the Superior Court affirmed, finding that an employer cannot claim protection under Pennsylvania’s Workers’ Compensation Act’s exclusivity provision when its own actions prevented an employee from filing a third-party claim against the person responsible for her injury. The Superior Court noted in its decision that the Act’s exclusivity provisions were not absolute under all circumstances. The Defendant-employer then appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Superior Court, finding that the plain language of the Workers’ Compensation Act bars suit against an employer for any recovery beyond the remedies provided by the Act itself, even against the actions alleged to have been conducted by the Defendant-employer. Additionally, given that the alleged injury that resulted from the Defendant-employer’s alleged actions were intertwined with the original work place injury and were not separable, no exception to the Act applied.
Questions about this case can be directed to Brook Dirlam at (412) 926-1438 or email@example.com.
Myers v. Romito
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court
No. 275 C.D. 2022
Decided: April 18, 2023
Intentionally failing to attend compulsory arbitration due to a mistaken belief as to jurisdiction was not a legitimate excuse to open judgment of non pros.
Plaintiffs filed a civil action seeking a jury trial for damages against police officers for wrongful arrest, false imprisonment and assault, but such action did not allege personal injury. The Trial Court referred the case to compulsory arbitration under Pa.R.Civ.P. 1021(d). Plaintiffs failed to attend the arbitration hearing because they felt that the compulsory arbitration program did not have jurisdiction to hear their claim because they sought damages in excess of the arbitration limits. Upon failing to attend the arbitration, the Trial Court issued a judgment of non pros against Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs filed a request to open the judgment which was denied by the Trial Court. In determining that there was no legitimate excuse, the Trial Court noted that Plaintiffs’ counsel had advised defense counsel before the arbitration that they had no intention of attending the arbitration and would appeal to a jury trial.
On appeal, Plaintiffs argued that the Trial Court erred by conditioning their right to a jury trial upon participation in compulsory arbitration and by dismissing their case with prejudice after they did not participate. The Court observed that a litigant’s request for damages that exceed the arbitration limit does not forever divest the arbitration program of jurisdiction over the case. The Trial Court is permitted to determine the amount in controversy by discovery, pretrial conference, hearing or otherwise. The Trial Court did not abuse its discretion in referring the case for arbitration because Plaintiff’s claim was for wrongful arrest and detention without claims for injury. Had they participated in the arbitration, Plaintiffs could have appealed to a jury trial thereby preserving their right to a jury trial. In affirming the decision of the Trial Court, the Court held that the Trial Court’s dismissal of the case due to the Plaintiffs’ failure to pursue their case did not violate their right to a jury trial. It was Plaintiffs’ failure to participate in the arbitration that denied them the opportunity for a jury trial.
The Court affirmed the judgment in favor of Defendants. The Trial Court did not abuse its discretion when it determined that the arbitration program’s lack of jurisdiction was not a legitimate excuse for Plaintiffs’ failure to appear at arbitration.
Questions about this case can be directed to James F. Swartz, III at (610) 332-7028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watson v. Great Wolf Resorts
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 1951 EDA 2022, 2023 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1069
Decided: May 2, 2023
Superior Court addresses personal jurisdiction and Plaintiff’s ability to amend pleadings to add new parties.
Watson filed a Complaint against Great Wolf Resorts alleging that he was injured while riding a water slide at a park owned by Great Wolf Resorts. Plaintiff attempted to serve the Complaint beginning November 2019, and after reinstating several times, served the Complaint at 1 Great Wolf Drive, Scotrun, Pennsylvania (“the address”), in January 2022. Great Wolf Resorts filed Preliminary Objections in response, challenging personal jurisdiction and service. Great Wolf Resorts attached an Affidavit to their Objections which asserted that it was a Delaware corporation with a principal place of business in Madison, Wisconsin. Further, Great Wolf Resorts alleged that it conducted no business at the address where service was made, conducted no business in Pennsylvania, had no corporate offices in Pennsylvania, and had not authorized anyone at the address to accept service on its behalf.
The Trial Court directed the parties to conduct any necessary discovery involving the jurisdictional challenge. No discovery was taken and no evidence was presented at the hearing on the objections. The Trial Court sustained the Objections and dismissed the Complaint. Watson appealed, arguing that the Trial Court erred: in granting the Preliminary Objections; by determining it lacked in personam jurisdiction; in determining service was improper; in determining that the record did not reflect Great Wolf Resorts as a proper Defendant; and in dismissing the Complaint without affording Watson leave to amend the pleadings.
The Superior Court affirmed the judgment. The Superior Court first addressed the issue of in personam jurisdiction. The Court identified that it was Watson’s burden to present evidence establishing a basis for personal jurisdiction. The Court held the Trial Court was correct to find that because Great Wolf Resort’s Objection was unrebutted, Watson’s challenge to the Preliminary Objections and Affidavit were without merit. Next, the Superior Court stated that because Watson made no request to amend his Complaint until more than thirty days past the Order dismissing the Complaint and after Watson had appealed, the request was not timely and the Court no longer had jurisdiction. Watson therefore waived the issue. The Superior Court declined to address the remaining arguments as moot or subsumed by the prior issues.
Questions about this case can be directed to Logan Nagle at (717) 255-7234 or email@example.com.
Goodenow v. McMahan
Pennsylvania Superior Court
No. 625 WDA 2022, 2023 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 964
Decided: April 19, 2023
A landlord out-of-possession must have actual notice of a dog’s “vicious propensities” to be held liable for a dog bite on the landlord’s property. Where no evidence is adduced that the subject dog had “vicious propensities,” summary judgment for the landlord is appropriate.
On July 11, 2015, a dog owned by Ronald McMahan allegedly attacked a dog owned by Plaintiff, Teresa Goodenow. While attempting to protect her dog, Ms. Goodenow fell, causing her personal injuries. The incident occurred on property owned by West Penn Sportsmen’s Club. West Penn rented out its property for groups to conduct trap shooting and target shooting functions. Mr. McMahan was an officer and employee of West Penn. He lived on the grounds with his dog. The evidence provided by Defendants was that McMahan’s dog had never behaved aggressively, with other people or their dogs, prior to the subject incident.
The only evidence of prior aggressive behavior was noted by the Goodenows. They testified that a couple of days before the subject accident, when they arrived to the property for their weekend event, McMahan’s dog came up to the screen door of the camper the Goodenows were staying in to investigate the Goodenow’s dogs. While the dog’s hair was raised, it did not growl, bark or attempt to break through the screen door, and it left when Mr. Goodenow shooed it away (after about 10-15 seconds). The Goodenows did tell Mr. McMahan about his dog’s behavior, but did not lodge a complaint with West Penn. A couple of days later, McMahan’s dog allegedly attempted to attack the Goodenow’s dog. Ms. Goodenow fell during the process of trying to protect her dog, causing her injuries. After discovery concluded, West Penn moved for summary judgment, which was granted by the Trial Court. Plaintiffs appealed.
In a non-precedential Opinion, the Superior Court determined that summary judgment was appropriate as to West Penn. As a landlord out-of-possession, West Penn could only be found liable if it had actual notice of the “vicious propensities” of McMahan’s dog. The Court did not even reach the issue of whether West Penn had actual notice, determining that there was simply no evidence adduced that McMahan’s dog had “vicious propensities” in the first place. In examining the incident described by the Goodenows, the Court stated “while [McMahan’s dog] bumped the screen door of the Goodenows’ camper, there was no testimony that she growled, clawed at the screen door or hit it with enough force or aggression to cause any damage.” This behavior was not aggressive, but was instead normal behavior for a dog. As there was no evidence of prior aggressive behavior, summary judgment for the landlord was appropriate.
Questions about this case can be directed to William Novick at (610)-332-7032 or firstname.lastname@example.org.