Category Archives: Pennsylvania

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Superior Court Addresses Whether the Plaintiff Is the “Master of the Claim” in Post-Tincher Decision


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Since the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014), parties proceeding in product liability cases in Pennsylvania often disagree about jury instructions. In Davis v. Volkswagen Grp. of Am., No. 1405 EDA 2018, 2019 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2763, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in an unpublished opinion,[1] recently addressed whether the trial court gave proper jury instructions in a products liability case against Volkswagen entities, including Volkswagen Aktiengeselleschaft (Volkswagen). The court held that, despite a statement in Tincher that the plaintiff is the “master of the claim,” the trial court properly instructed the jury on both the consumer expectation test and the risk-utility test for establishing that the product at issue, a Volkswagen Passat, was in a defective condition. Continue reading

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Third Circuit Holds Amazon Liable As a Product Seller – Communications Decency Act Not Applicable to Sale and Distribution Strict Liability Claims


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Defective products harm consumers. Courts have consistently held, however, that Amazon is not liable for defective products acquired through its on-line marketplace because the company is not a “seller” and is otherwise protected by the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, applying Pennsylvania law, rejected both defenses in Oberdorf v. Amazon.com Inc. No.18-1041 (3rd Cir. July 3, 2019). Continue reading

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Arbitration: For Whom the Statute of Limitations Does Not Toll in Pennsylvania


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In Morse v. Fisher Asset Management, LLC, 2019 Pa. Super. 78, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania considered whether the plaintiff’s action was stayed when the trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint after sustaining the defendants’ preliminary objections seeking enforcement of an arbitration clause in the contract at issue. The Superior Court—distinguishing between a defendant who files a motion to compel arbitration and a defendant who files preliminary objections based on an arbitration clause—held that, in the latter scenario, if the defendant’s preliminary objections are sustained, the statute of limitations is not tolled. This case establishes that, in Pennsylvania, plaintiffs seeking to defeat a challenge to a lawsuit based on a purported agreement to arbitrate need to pay close attention to the type of motion the defendant files to defeat the plaintiff’s lawsuit. Continue reading

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“Bad Kamara/Good Karma” — Life After Hartford v. Kamara


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How the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Decision in Kamara Changes the Legal Landscape for Workers’ Compensation Subrogation and Successfully Moving Forward

On November 21, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, reversed the Superior Court stating a right of action in Pennsylvania remains with the injured employee. Specifically, the court held that “unless the injured employee assigns her cause of action or voluntarily joins the litigation as a party plaintiff, the insurer may not enforce its statutory right to subrogation by filing an action directly against the tortfeasor.” Continue reading

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Declares Future Credit on Medical Benefits Dead


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On June 19, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided Whitmoyer v. WCAB (Mountain Country Meats), No. 52 MAP 2017, 2018 Pa. Lexis 2995. The decision reversed longstanding Pennsylvania law and the Commonwealth Court’s decision. The net result of this decision: an insurer can no longer assert a future credit on projected medical benefit payments when settling a third-party case. However, insurers may continue to assert a future credit on indemnity payments. Continue reading

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In Pennsylvania, Subsequent Purchasers Can Pursue Fraud and Unfair Trade Practices Claims Against Builders


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In Adams v. Hellings Builders, Inc., 2016 Pa. Super. 192, 2016 Pa. Super. LEXIS 487, Christopher Adams and his wife, Margaret Adams (Plaintiffs), filed suit against Defendant Hellings Builders, Inc. (Hellings) to recover for moisture-related damage to their home caused by Hellings’ allegedly defective installation of stucco. Hellings filed Preliminary Objections, arguing that Plaintiffs failed to state a claim because they were not in privity with Hellings and they had no direct business dealings with Hellings.

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In Pennsylvania, a Party May be Required to Disclose Materials in the Claim File of its Third-Party Claims Administrator


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In Brown v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 142 A.3d 1 (Pa. Super. May 24, 2016), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania addressed attorney-client privilege and work product claims associated with the ordered production of materials from a third-party administrator’s claim file. The court also discussed whether the video recording of a mock deposition of a defendant’s employee was discoverable as a recorded statement. With respect to the first issue, the court rejected the defendants’ wholesale claim of privilege related to any and all original investigation statements in the third-party administrator’s file. With respect to the ordered production of the mock deposition video, the court found that the video was discoverable pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 4003.4. The Brown case serves as a reminder that a third-party claims administrator’s file materials may be discoverable and recorded statements by party witnesses, even if conducted by counsel in the form of an interview, may be discoverable if they are recorded by a third-party such as a court reporter or videographer.

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Pennsylvania Superior Court Holds That the Bilt-Rite Exception to the Economic Loss Doctrine Does Not Require an Express Representation


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By: Edward Jaeger and Michael Wolfer

In Gongloff Contracting, L.L.C. v. L. Robert Kimball & Associates, Architects and Engineers, 119 A.3d 1070 (Pa. Super. 2015), the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a negligent misrepresentation claim against an architect does not require a plaintiff to make allegations of an express misrepresentation by the architect in order to survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the economic loss doctrine. The court held that, pursuant to Bilt-Rite Contractors, Inc. v. The Architectural Studio, 581 Pa. 454 (2005), a plaintiff may sufficiently plead a negligent misrepresentation claim by asserting that the architect’s design documents contained false information.

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In A Suit By A Subrogee-Insurance Company, The Insured Is Not Liable For Contribution


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When an insurer, as subrogee of its insured, files suit against a defendant to recover its subrogated payments, the defendant, not infrequently, files a third-party complaint against the insured. Typically, the defendant alleges that, if it is liable, then the insured, based on his or her contributory negligence, is liable to the defendant for contribution. Insureds, however, cannot be liable in tort to themselves.

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Pennsylvania: When Should Pennsylvania’s New Strict Products Liability Law Apply?


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Pennsylvania has maintained its own peculiar brand of strict products liability law ever since the Supreme Court decided Azzarello v. Black Bros. Co., Inc.[1] in 1978. Maligned by many as “absurd and unworkable,”[2] if “excessively” orientated towards plaintiffs,[3] Azzarello’s unique approach to the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965)[4] has recently been judicially consigned to the dustbin of history.

In Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc.,[5] decided on November 19, 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court expressly overruled Azzarello leaving in its place a new alternative standards approach to proving a Section 402A claim. An injured worker or subrogated insurer[6] must still prove that the seller, whether a manufacturer or a distributor, placed the product on the market in a “defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the consumer.”[7] But now, under Tincher, a plaintiff must use either a “consumer expectation test” or a “risk-utility test” to establish that criterion.[8]

Of the many issues potential strict products liability litigants are left to ponder after Tincher, one of the most basic—and possibly overlooked—issues is “When should it apply?” Specifically, if a case were filed months or even years before Tincher was decided, and it remains pending, will Azzarello’s approach to Section 402A govern the case, or does the new Tincher approach apply?

Doctrinally, this issue is framed in terms of “retroactive” versus “prospective” application. The Pennsylvania Constitution neither mandates nor forbids retroactive or prospective application of a new decision.[9] The decision to apply a new rule of law is within the complete discretion of the court.[10] And although Pennsylvania courts generally apply the law in effect at the time of an appellate decision, affording parties whose cases are pending the benefit of changes in the law, they may deviate from this approach to further the interests of justice.[11] A “sweeping rule of retroactive application” has never been the law of the Commonwealth.[12]

The decision to apply a new rule of law retroactively or prospectively is generally informed by the tripartite Chevron[13] test, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted in 1977 in Schreiber v Republic Intermodal Corp.[14] Under the test, Pennsylvania courts consider: (1) whether the decision establishes a new principle of law; (2) the merits of the rule in question, its purpose and effect, and the potential impact of retroactive effect on its application; and (3) the equities involved as the case may be.[15]

In Tincher, the Supreme Court never reached this decision. It sent the issue of how to apply its new alternative standards approach to Section 402A back to the trial court.[16] Fortunately there are other sources of guidance on the issue. For example, certain voices of the Court in cases leading up to Tincher, including particularly that of the Commonwealth’s new Chief Justice, consistently favored a “purely prospective” move away from Azzarello.[17]

In Bugosh v. I.U. N. Am., Inc., for example, Chief Justice (then Justice) Thomas G. Saylor stated that, in favoring a prospective move away from Azzarello, “a predominant consideration is the settled expectations of those with accrued causes of action and a present entitlement to resort to the civil justice system.”[18] “Azzarello has been with us for too long,” then Justice Saylor added, “and too much settled jurisprudence has evolved around it, for it to be retroactively displaced without profound impact on vested entitlements.”[19]

If Tincher should apply only prospectively, i.e., not retroactively on cases that were pending when Tincher was decided, is there a cut-off point at which litigants’ “settled expectations” would no longer be spoiled by retroactive application? What about for causes of action which accrued before November 19, 2014, during Azzarello’s reign, but for which a lawsuit has not yet been commenced? Is this one of the issues the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in its parting remarks in Tincher, intended to “develop within the proper factual context against the background of targeted advocacy?”[20]

Many questions remain post-Tincher. It is clear that the Azzarello decision made Pennsylvania one of the most favorable jurisdictions in the country to pursue strict product liability claims. Azzarello is no longer the law and Tincher now provides the framework for the new landscape which needs to be navigated. This framework is in its infancy and is malleable, providing litigants with a tremendous opportunity to shape the new law to advance their respective interests favorably in the strict product liability claims arena.

[1] 391 A.2d 1020 (Pa. 1978).

[2] John M. Thomas, Defining “Design Defect” in Pennsylvania: Reconciling Azzarello and the Restatement (Third) of Torts, 71 Temp. L. Rev. 217, 217 (1998) (citing James A. Henderson, Jr., Products Liability, 2 Corp. L. Rev. 246, 248 (1979)).

[3] Ellen Wertheimer, Azzarello Agonistes: Bucking the Strict Products Liability Tide, 66 Temp. L. Rev. 419, 420 n.9 (1993) (citing Sheila L. Birnbaum, Unmasking the Test for Design Defect: From Negligence [to Warranty] to Strict Liability to Negligence, 33 Vand. L. Rev. 593, 637 (1980)) (“[S]ome commentators take issue with what they view as Azzarello’s excessive orientation towards plaintiffs.”).

[4] “One who sells any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to his property is subject to liability for physical harm thereby caused to the ultimate user or consumer, or to his property, if (a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and (b) it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.”

[5] 104 A.3d 328 (Pa. 2014).

[6] The issue of whether a subrogated insurer has a direct right of recovery against a third party tortfeasor is currently pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Domtar Paper Co., 92 A.3d 809 (Pa. 2014). An opinion is expected sometime this year, although vacancies on the Court may delay a ruling.

[7] See Edward A. Jaeger Jr. and William L. Doerler, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court Clarifies Pennsylvania’s Strict Liability Standard, The Subrogation Strategist (Jan. 15, 2015), available here.

[8] See id. (“In other words, plaintiffs may prove a defective condition by showing either that (1) the danger is unknowable and unacceptable to the average or ordinary consumer, or that (2) a reasonable person would conclude that the probability and seriousness of the harm caused by the product outweigh the burden or costs of taking precautions.”) (internal quotation omitted).

[9] Blackwell v. Com., State Ethics Comm’n, 589 A.2d 1094, 1098 (Pa. 1991).

[10] Com. v. Grant, 813 A.2d 726, 738 (Pa. 2002) (subsequent history omitted) (citing Blackwell, 589 A.2d at 1098).

[11] Bugosh v. I.U. N. Am., Inc., 971 A.2d 1228, 1242 (Pa. 2009) (Saylor, J., dissenting, in which Castille, C.J., joins) (citations omitted). See also Blackwell, 589 A.2d at 1100 (quoting Gibson v. Com., 415 A.2d 80, 84 (Pa. 1980) (“The prime impetus behind th[e] occasional willingness not to give a decision full effect is the concern that a novel decision will unfairly prejudice those formerly advantaged by the old rules.”).

[12] Blackwell,589 A.2d at 1099.

[13] Named after Chevron Oil Co. v. Hudson, 404 U.S. 97 (1971).

[14] 375 A.2d 1285 (Pa. 1977).

[15] Bugosh, 971 A.2d at 1243 (Saylor, J., dissenting, in which Castille, C.J., joins) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

[16] Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 104 A.3d 328, 410 (Pa. 2014).

[17] See, e.g., Bugosh, 971 A.2d at 1241 (Saylor, J., dissenting, in which Castille, C.J., joins) (“I am on record as favoring prospective movement [away from Azzarello], and I remain of that position today, for the reasons I previously have stated.”) (citation omitted); Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 841 A.2d 1000, 1012 (Pa. 2003), disapproved of by McGonigal v. Sears Roebuck & Co., 2009 WL 2137210 (E.D. Pa. July 16, 2009) (Saylor, J., concurring, in which Castille, C.J, and Eakin, J., join) (arguing for move away from Azzarello, “at least on a prospective basis”).

[18] 971 A.2d at 1242-43.

[19] Id. at 1243.

[20] Tincher, 104 A.3d at 410.

This entry was posted in Pennsylvania, Products Liability, Workers' Compensation.