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Litigation

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Intentions Ambiguous in Shooting During Fistfight

By Patrick T. Casey, Esquire

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently issued an opinion on an insurer’s duty to defend in the case of Erie Insurance Exchange v. Tracy L. Moore, Harold E. McCutcheon, III, individually and as administrators of the Estate of Harold Eugene McCutcheon, Jr. and Richard A. Carly, No. 20 WAP 2018, 2020 WL 1932642 (Pa. April 22, 2020).  The court found that there was a duty to defend an insured where the acts complained of by the plaintiff were deemed potentially unintended, despite the insured’s several prior and subsequent acts of intentional violence.

The facts of the case arose from the murder of Terry McCutcheon by her ex-husband Harold E. McCutcheon, Jr. and his subsequent suicide.  Prior to these events, McCutcheon had left a note to his adult children explaining his intention to murder his ex-wife and commit suicide.  In accordance with his stated plan, McCutcheon intentionally shot and killed his ex-wife at her home.  Before he could shoot himself, however, he was interrupted by the arrival of his ex-wife’s current boyfriend, Richard A. Carly.  Carly began knocking on the door and eventually tried to enter when there was no answer.  At this point, McCutcheon suddenly opened the door and pulled Carly inside.  Continue reading

Waiver of Attorney Work Product and Attorney-Client Privilege Protections

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: Waiver of Attorney Work Product and Attorney-Client Privilege Protections

by Patrick Casey, Esquire

The attorney-client privilege and attorney work product doctrine are two well-known evidentiary protections. Although both protect otherwise relevant and “discoverable” materials from disclosure, the two evidentiary protections serve different purposes and are subject to different standards.

The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to foster the free and open communication of information between the lawyer and client. Whereas, the purpose of the work product doctrine is to protect the mental impressions of an attorney acting on behalf of a client. Consistent with the purposes of these evidentiary protections, the attorney-client privilege is held by the client, while the work product protection is held by the attorney.

Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court clarified the circumstances under which attorney work product protection may be waived, while distinguishing such waiver from the standard for waiver of the attorney-client privilege. Continue reading

Summary Judgement affirmed in Malpractice case against NJ Insurance Producer.

Summary Judgment was affirmed by the Appellate Division in a professional malpractice case against an insurance producer in a New Jersey Superior Court case. Amelia M. Lolli, Esquire was successful in obtaining summary judgment in favor of a Camden County insurance agency in a 2014 case. The summary judgment decision was appealed by the Plaintiff and oral argument was conducted by Ms. Lolli in front of the Appellate Division in January 2019. The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the case by the trial court and found the insurance producer did not breach a fiduciary duty to its client.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Broadens the Real Property Exception to the Immunity Provided by the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act

By: Julia Jacobelli

On December 28, 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion which expands on the definition of “real property,” for purposes of determining governmental immunity under the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act.

In Brewington v. City of Philadelphia, Walter G. Smith Elementary School and The School District of Philadelphia, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversing the entry of Summary Judgment in favor of the School District. Plaintiff, Jarett Brewington (a minor) and his mother, Syeta Brewington, claimed that on May 9, 2012, Jarett was participating in a relay race during gym class at Walter G. Smith Elementary School when he tripped and fell, causing him to propel headfirst into a wall at the end of the gym. The wall was concrete, and not padded. As a result of his fall, minor plaintiff suffered a concussion, was absent from school for a period of time, and suffered headaches and memory issues.

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The state of product liability law in Pennsylvania post Tincher v. Omegaflex

By Christopher P. Lagay

Product liability litigation in Pennsylvania was significantly altered by the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., 628 Pa. 296 (2014),  which overruled Azzarello v. Black Brothers Company, 480 Pa. 547 (1978), and returned to fact finders the responsibility to determine if a product was unreasonably dangerous, based on a full evaluation of the proofs offered by the plaintiff.

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Pennsylvania Superior Court: No Deference Where Trial Judge Fails to Observe Voir Dire

By: Pat Casey

A common practice in many state civil courtrooms throughout Pennsylvania, certainly in its two busiest courts – the Philadelphia and Allegheny Courts of Common Pleas – has recently been found to be lacking by the Superior Court: jury selection outside the presence of a judge. When civil litigators select a jury, they use a process in which the attorneys and the court work together to search for potential hardship, bias and prejudice among the prospective jurors through a series of written and oral questions, known as voir dire (meaning roughly “to tell the truth”). Commonly in civil litigation, the trial judge does directly not participate in this process. Instead, the trial judge will delegate one of his or her staff to handle this sometimes time-consuming endeavor of narrowing down a potential juror pool of hundreds to the 8 or 12 jurors who will ultimately hear the case, along with 1 or 2 alternate jurors.

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Pennsylvania Superior Court Declines to Create Exception to Hills and Ridges Doctrine

By: Julia Jacobelli

On January 31, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued an opinion which reaffirmed the validity of the hills and ridges doctrine, and provided additional guidance on the scope of the duties of property owners to remove snow and ice from their property.

In Collins v. Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation and Ross’s Home Improvement, Inc., the Superior Court affirmed the decision of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, granting summary judgment on the basis of the hills and ridges doctrine. Plaintiff, David Collins, claimed that on January 21, 2014, he slipped and fell on an ice or snow covered sidewalk on property owned by Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation and leased to Plaintiff’s employer. Continue reading

PA Supreme Court: Minor Deviations from Underinsured Motorist Coverage Rejection Form

by Patrick Casey

Pennsylvania Supreme Court: very minor deviations from underinsured motorist coverage rejection form permitted

In Ford v. American States Insurance Company, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently clarified that “de minimis,” or minor, deviations from the underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage rejection form set out in Section 1731 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law can nevertheless “specifically comply” with Section 1731.  Ford v. American States Ins. Co., No. 13 WAP 2016, 2017 WL 694744 (Pa. February 22, 2017).

Section 1731 requires that insurers obtain the signature of any insured wishing to reject UIM coverage on a form that contains specific language dictated by the General Assembly.  Continue reading

Determining Realty Or Personalty For Liability Under PA Subdivision Tort Claims Act

Determining Whether Something Is A Part Of Realty Or Personalty For Purposes Of Liability Under The Pennsylvania Subdivision Tort Claims Act

By: Steven M. Liero, Esquire

When an action is brought against a political subdivision, such as a school district or a municipality, a question arise whether the claim falls within an exception to the immunity enjoyed by the subdivision.

Most often claims are brought pursuant to the real estate exception contained in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8542(b)(c). To invoke this section, the plaintiff must show that a) the injury resulted from a defective condition that b) stemmed from the care, custody or control of real estate, not personalty. Mellon v. City of Pittsburgh Zoo, 768 A.2d 921 (Pa. Cmwlth 2000). The question becomes more complicated when the real estate contains not only a building or grounds around the building, but a device attached to the building. As an example, a question arises whether a metal cleat, attached to a gym wall in a school on which a person is injured is part of the realty itself or simply an item of personalty. If the latter, the plaintiff’s injury would not fall within the real estate exception to immunity and that person could not recover for pain and suffering. Continue reading

Delay Damages in a UM Case are Based on the Molded Verdict and Not the Jury Award

By: Steven M. Liero, Esquire

On December 28, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Marlette, et al. v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 57 A.3d 1224 (2012) a series of consolidated cases held that delay damages in an uninsured motorist action are calculated on the verdict as molded by the Court, not on the full amount originally awarded by the jury. Continue reading