Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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In this appeal, the issue presented to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether an exception to the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act applied ― the real property exception to governmental immunity ― and, in particular, whether the absence of padding on a gym wall, into which a student ran during gym class, causing injury, fell within the exception. In 2012, then-nine-year-old Jarrett Brewington ran in a relay race during gym class at Walter G. Smith Elementary School in Philadelphia. While Jarrett was running, he tripped and fell, causing him to propel into the wall at the end of the gym, hit and cut his head, and lose consciousness. No padding covered the gym wall, which was made of concrete. Jarrett was later diagnosed with a concussion, was absent from school for one to two months after the incident, and continued experiencing headaches and memory problems years later. In 2013, Jarrett’s mother, Syeta Brewington, brought an action against Walter G. Smith Elementary School and the School District of Philadelphia (collectively, the “School”), alleging Jarrett’s injuries occurred because of a defective and dangerous condition of the premises, namely, the concrete gym wall, and that the School was negligent in failing to install padded safety mats to cushion the wall. In response, the School filed, inter alia, a motion for summary judgment, raising the defense of governmental immunity, and claiming that the real property exception to governmental immunity under the Act did not apply. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court found the lack of padding of a gym wall could constitute negligence in the care, custody, and control of real property, and, thus, fell within the Act’s real estate exception. View "Brewington v. Phila. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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This appeal presented an issue of whether a workers’ compensation insurance carrier could bring a third-party action against an alleged tortfeasor on behalf of an injured employee to recoup the amount paid in workers’ compensation benefits where the employee did not independently sue the tortfeasor, did not join in the insurer’s action, and did not assign her cause of action to the insurer. In 2013, Chunli Chen was standing in the parking lot of Thrifty Rental Car when she was struck by a rental vehicle operated by Kafumba Kamara. When the accident occurred, Chen was in the course of her employment with Reliance Sourcing, Inc., which maintained workers’ compensation coverage through The Hartford Insurance Group (“Appellee” or “Insurer”). Insurer had paid $59,424.71 in medical and wage benefits to Chen pursuant to her employer’s workers’ compensation insurance policy. Chen did not seek to recover damages for her injuries by filing an action against Kamara and/or Thrifty Rental Car (collectively referred to herein as “Appellants” or “Tortfeasors”) and did not assign her cause of action against Tortfeasors to Insurer. In 2015, when the two-year statute of limitations was about to expire on Chen’s cause of action, Insurer sought to effectuate its subrogation right under Section 319 of the Workers’ Compensation Act (“WCA”) by filing a praecipe for a writ of summons against Tortfeasors. “Reaffirming the well-settled proposition that the right of action against the tortfeasor remains in the injured employee,” the Pennsylvania Supreme 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. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court’s judgment and reinstated that of the trial court, which sustained the preliminary objections filed by the tortfeasor and dismissed the insurer’s complaint with prejudice. View "Hartford Ins. Grp. v. Kamara" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review in this matter to determine whether an employer has a legal duty to use reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information that the employer stores on an internet-accessible computer system. Barbara Dittman, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated (collectively, Employees), filed the operative class action complaint in this matter against UPMC d/b/a the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and UPMC McKeesport (collectively, UPMC), alleging that a data breach had occurred through which the personal and financial information, including names, birth dates, social security numbers, addresses, tax forms, and bank account information of all 62,000 UPMC employees and former employees was accessed and stolen from UPMC’s computer systems. Employees further alleged that the stolen data, which consisted of information UPMC required Employees to provide as a condition of their employment, was used to file fraudulent tax returns on behalf of the victimized Employees, resulting in actual damages. Employees asserted a negligence claim and breach of implied contract claim against UPMC. The Supreme Court held an employer has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care to safeguard its employees’ sensitive personal information stored by the employer on an internet- accessible computer system. Furthermore, the Court held that, under Pennsylvania’s economic loss doctrine, recovery for purely pecuniary damages is permissible under a negligence theory provided that the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s breach of a legal duty arising under common law that is independent of any duty assumed pursuant to contract. As the Superior Court came to the opposite conclusions, the Supreme Court vacated its judgment. View "Dittman v. UPMC" on Justia Law

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In this premises liability case, John Stapas sued Giant Eagle and related entities (collectively Giant Eagle) for injuries he sustained at a GetGo convenience store. At the time of the incident, Stapas was 17 years old and worked full-time as a busboy and dishwasher at a restaurant, earning $8.25 per hour plus $14.00-$20.00 per shift in tips. In 2007, Stapas went to GetGo after his restaurant shift. At GetGo, he was talking to his friend, Crystal Stogden, who worked the night shift there. Minutes after Stapas arrived, a customer exiting the store held the door open for Brandon McCallister to enter. McCallister had been banned from patronizing that GetGo location. McCallister, who appeared intoxicated, started arguing with Stogden about his ban. Stapas was not initially involved in the argument. After about one minute, Stapas intervened to attempt to diffuse the argument and protect Stogden and another female employee, LaToya Stevens. Eventually, Stapas, McCallister, Stogden, and Stevens exited the store into the parking lot area. Outside the store, McCallister’s friend was waiting for him. Stapas told Stogden to get back inside the store, and Stevens remained outside. McCallister continued screaming at the employees as Stapas followed him to his vehicle, insisting that he leave. As they approached McCallister’s car, McCallister initiated a physical fight with Stapas. During the fight, McCallister pulled out a gun, which he had concealed on his person, and shot Stapas four times. Stapas missed six weeks of work while recovering from the injuries, and he continued to have daily stomach pain from the shooting. In this appeal by allowance, we consider whether Giant Eagle was required to object to the jury’s verdict awarding future lost wages to preserve its challenge to the verdict, which Giant Eagle labeled as a weight of the evidence challenge in its post-trial motion. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court concluded that an objection to a jury’s verdict premised on trial errors, correctable before the jury is discharged, must be raised before the jury is discharged. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Superior Court’s order awarding Giant Eagle a new trial on damages. View "Stapas. v. Giant Eagle" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to address two issues associated with workers’ compensation claims by firefighters suffering from cancer. First, the Court had to determine the evidentiary requirements for a claimant to demonstrate that he or she has an “occupational disease,” as that term is defined in Section 108(r) of the Workers’ Compensation Act (the “Act”). Second, the Court had to decide whether epidemiological evidence may be used by an employer to rebut the evidentiary presumption that the claimant’s cancer is compensable as set forth in Section 301(f) of the Act. With respect to the first issue, the Supreme Court concluded that pursuant to Section 108(r), the claimant has an initial burden to establish that his or her cancer is a type of cancer that is capable of being caused by exposure to a known IARC Group 1 carcinogen. With respect to the second, the Court concluded that epidemiological evidence was not sufficient to rebut the evidentiary presumption under Section 301(f). View "City of Phila. FD v. WCAB; Appeal of: Sladek, S." on Justia Law

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Sometime in 2001, Nancy Nicolaou was bitten by a tick on her left ankle, after which she developed a rash and experienced numbness and tingling in her left toe, fatigue, and lower back pain. This appeal presented the issue of whether Appellants Nancy and Nicholas Nicolaou satisfied the discovery rule so as to toll the running of the statute of limitations on their medical malpractice action filed against Appellee health care providers for failing to diagnose and treat Mrs. Nicolaou’s Lyme disease. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellees, deeming appellants’ action time-barred. The Superior Court affirmed, holding that the discovery rule did not toll the statute of limitations because, as a matter of law, appellants failed to establish that they pursued their action with reasonable diligence. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held summary judgment was granted improperly because the determination of whether appellants acted with due diligence under the circumstances presented was one of fact for a jury to decide. View "Nicolaou v. Martin" on Justia Law

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In a negligence case, Helen Jones sought recovery for injuries sustained when a vehicle driven by Ron Ott rear-ended Jones’ car while Ott was working for Eastern Elevator Service and Sales Company. Prior to trial, Jones filed proposed points for charge with the prothonotary. Of particular relevance here, Jones filed three proposed instructions related to negligence per se. After trial had commenced, but before the case went to the jury, the trial court held a charge conference. Ultimately, the trial court’s charge to the jury did not include an instruction concerning negligence per se. Notably, after charging the jurors, the trial court asked counsel whether there was anything with respect to the charge that either party wanted to put on the record. Jones’ lawyer responded: “I have no issues with the charge, Your Honor.” The jury returned a verdict in favor of Ott. Jones filed a post-trial motion contending that the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury as to negligence per se. Ott responded that Jones had waived her jury-charge challenge by failing to lodge a timely objection at trial. Jones replied that she had preserved her claim by docketing written proposed points for charge and raising the issue in a post-trial motion. The trial court denied Jones’ motion, and Jones appealed to the Superior Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review in this case in order to clarify the methods by which one may preserve a challenge to a trial court’s jury instructions in accordance with Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 227.1. Because Jones failed to lodge a contemporaneous objection to the trial court’s instructions at trial or to interpose any objection when invited by the trial court to do so, her challenge was deemed waived. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Superior Court. View "Jones v Ott" on Justia Law

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This case was one in a longstanding dispute between major health services providers operating in Western Pennsylvania: UPE, a/k/a Highmark Health and Highmark, Inc. (collectively, Highmark) and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Highmark and UPMC separately entered into Consent Decrees with the Commonwealth's Office of Attorney General (OAG). In this case, an issue arose concerning the obligations imposed by the Consent Decrees relative to UMPC's attempt to terminate ten hospital Medicare Acute Care Provider Agreements it had with Highmark. Pertinent here, UPMC's Consent Decree required it to treat Highmark's Medicare Advantage Plan consumers as in-network through the end date of the Consent Decree. UPMC allowed Provider Agreements with Highmark to renew annually in satisfaction of its in-network obligation. UPMC informed Highmark in accordance with the notice provisions, it would terminate the Provider Agreements on December 31, 2018, but would nonetheless continue to comply with all terms and obligations of those agreements through June 30, 2019, pursuant to the Decree runout provision. Highmark filed for an injunction and to hold UPMC in contempt. The Commonwealth granted OAG's petition to enforce, rejecting UPMC's contention that the six-month runout provision of the Provider Agreements satisfied its obligation to remain in "contract" with Highmark. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the runout provision of the Provider Agreement satisfied UPMC's obligation to contract for in-network access to its facilities for Highmark's MA Plan subscribers through June 30, 2019. View "Pennsylvania v. UPMC, et al" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed this appeal to address the City of Philadelphia's so-called "soda tax." In June 2016, City Council enacted the challenged ordinance, which imposed a tax regarding specified categories of drinks sold, or intended to be sold, in the municipal limits. Appellants -- a group of consumers, retailers, distributors, producers, and trade associations -- filed suit against the City and the Commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Revenue, in the court of common pleas, challenging the legality and constitutionality of the tax and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The common pleas court differentiated the soda tax as a “non-retail, distribution level tax” and that the tax did not apply to the same transaction or subject as the state sales tax, thus, no violation of the "Sterling Act," Act of August 5, 1932, Ex. Sess., P.L. 45 (as amended 53 P.S. sections 15971–15973). A divided, en banc panel of the Commonwealth Court affirmed, the majority reasoning that in determining whether a tax was duplicative, the focus is upon the incidence of the tax; such incidence is ultimately determined according to the substantive text of the enabling legislation; and the concept of legal incidence does not concern post-tax economic actions of private actors. Because the City’s beverage tax and the state sales and use tax are imposed on different, albeit related, transactions and measured on distinct terms, the majority likewise concluded that the Sterling Act was not offended. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that the Sterling Act conferred upon the City "a broad taxing power subject to preemption," while clarifying that “any and all subjects” are available for local taxation which the Commonwealth could, but does not presently, tax. The Commonwealth could, but did not, tax the distributor/dealer-level transactions or subjects targeted by the soda tax. "Moreover, the legal incidences of the Philadelphia tax and the Commonwealth’s sales and use tax are different and, accordingly, Sterling Act preemption does not apply." View "Williams v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law

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In a discretionary appeal, at issue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was whether the high income child support guidelines found at Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-3.1 inherently accounted for the reasonable needs of the children such that any discrete analysis of those needs by a fact-finder was improper. The Court also examined whether a voluntary contribution to an irrevocable non-grantor trust for the benefit of the children was an appropriate factor for a court to consider for purposes of deviating from the guidelines amount of child support under Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-5(b). Furthermore, the Court considered the propriety of an award of attorney’s fees to the obligee in this case. The Court concluded: (1) Rule 1910.16-3.1 did not render independent examination of the reasonable needs of the children by the fact-finder improper in high income cases; (2) a voluntary contribution to an irrevocable non-grantor trust for the benefit of the children was an inappropriate factor to consider for deviation purposes under Rule 1910.16-5(b); and (3) the obligee is not entitled to an award of attorney’s fees in this case. View "Hanrahan v. Bakker" on Justia Law