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Kelly Smith v. A.O. Smith Corp., 2022 Pa. Super. LEXIS 37(January 26, 2022) (Colins, J.).  Kelly Smith (“Plaintiff”), the executrix of the estate of Daniel R. Harrity (“Decedent”), appeals from the December 1, 2020 order dismissing all claims and parties in this action in which Plaintiff seeks damages related to Decedent’s alleged exposure to asbestos. In this appeal, Plaintiff challenges the August 11, 2020 order of the trial court granting the summary judgment motion of Appellee Vanadium Enterprises Corporation (“Vanadium”); the trial court concluded that the record lacked sufficient evidence to support a finding that Vanadium was liable as a successor to Decedent’s former employers, Schneider, Inc. and one of its subsidiaries, Pittsburgh Mechanical Systems, Inc. (“Pittsburgh Mechanical”).

In Pennsylvania, it is a “general principle of corporation law that a purchaser of a corporation’s assets does not, for such reason alone, assume the debts of the selling corporation, unlike a purchaser of the corporation’s stock.” Fizzano Brothers, 42 A.3d at 954. However, exceptions to this general rule against successor liability have been recognized where: (1) the purchaser expressly or implicitly agreed to assume liability, (2) the transaction amounted to a consolidation or [a de facto] merger, (3) the purchasing corporation was merely a continuation of the selling corporation, (4) the transaction was fraudulently entered into to escape liability, or (5) the transfer was without adequate consideration and no provisions were made for creditors of the selling corporation.

For a de facto merger to occur, there must be continuity of the successor and predecessor corporation as evidenced by (1) continuity of ownership; (2) a cessation of ordinary business and dissolution of the predecessor as soon as practically and legally possible; (3) assumption by the successor of the liabilities ordinarily necessary for the uninterrupted continuation of the business of the predecessor, and (4) a continuity of management, personnel, physical location, aspects, and general business operation. Fizzano Brothers, 42 A.3d at 962 (citation omitted). “[T]he elements of the de facto merger are not a mechanically-applied checklist, but a map to guide a reviewing court to a determination that, under the facts established, for all intents and purposes, a merger has or has not occurred between two or more corporations, although not accomplished under the statutory procedure.” Id. at 969.

The “mere continuation” exception to the general rule against successor liability is often treated “identically” to and is “difficult to distinguish” from the de facto merger exception. Id. at 963 n.13 (quoting Commonwealth v. Lavelle, 382 Pa. Super. 356, 555 A.2d 218, 227 (Pa. Super. 1989) (en banc)). We have stated that “[i]n a [mere] continuation, a new corporation is formed to acquire the assets of an extant corporation, which then ceases to exist.” Lavelle, 555 A.2d at 227 (citation omitted).

Just as the “de facto merger” test was not met, the summary judgment record also fails to reveal sufficient evidence to support a claim of Vanadium’s successor liability under the “mere continuation” exception.

Rather than Vanadium being a continuation of Schneider, Inc. and Pittsburgh Mechanical, the record reveals a quite different picture. Schneider, Inc. and Pittsburgh Mechanical had no common officers, directors, or shareholders with Vanadium or its subsidiaries that absorbed the assets of Schneider Engineers, SSI, Jones-Krall, and CRS. Furthermore, there is no evidence that Schneider, Inc. or Pittsburgh Mechanical ceased to exist after the 1990 asset purchase and the only evidence submitted by the parties indicates that Schneider, Inc. remains an active corporation to this day. The record thus shows that Vanadium was solely a continuation of Schneider Engineers, SSI, Jones-Krall, and CRS and not of Schneider, Inc. or Pittsburgh Mechanical.

We note that Plaintiff has not asserted the fraud exception to the general rule against successor liability by arguing that Matthew’s investment in Vanadium was a sham transaction to create the appearance of a change of ownership of the Schneider Companies to avoid liabilities. See Fizzano Brothers, 42 A.3d at 954 n.2 (stating that fraud exception is met where “the transaction was fraudulently entered into to escape liability”) (citation omitted). The record here plainly would not support a finding that the 1990 asset sale was fraudulent. Cf. Continental I, 810 A.2d at 136 n.6 (agreeing with trial court that Continental Insurance could not recover from Vanadium under the fraud exception to the rule against successor liability).

Plaintiff has failed to produce evidence to overcome the “strong presumption in Pennsylvania against piercing the corporate veil.” Mortimer v. McCool, 255 A.3d 261, 268 (Pa. 2021) (quoting Lumax, 669 A.2d at 895). As our Supreme Court has explained, the “distribut[ion] of related businesses across multiple corporate entities to secure liability protection and legal advantage” is not by itself cause for piercing the corporate veil. Id. at 283. Instead, veil-piercing cases “typically involve truly egregious misconduct” where the corporate form is abused to such a degree that “adherence to the corporate fiction under the circumstances would sanction fraud or promote injustice.” Id. at 283, 287 (citation omitted). While the record here contains evidence that the Schneider Companies disregarded some corporate formalities, such as by not holding regular board meetings, and shared some overlapping officers and a 401(k) plan,14 Plaintiff has fallen far short of showing “such unity of interest and ownership that the separate personalities of the [individual Schneider Companies] no longer exist[ed].” Id. at 286-87 (citation omitted). Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not err in determining that the record lacked sufficient evidence of facts to make out a prima facie claim that Vanadium was liable under a theory of successor liability for the acts of Decedent’s former employers, Schneider, Inc. and Pittsburgh Mechanical. Pa.R.Civ.P. 1035.2; Cigna, 111 A.3d at 210-11. We therefore affirm the order granting summary judgment in favor of Vanadium.


Robert Kimble v. Laser Spine Inst., 2021 Pa. Super. LEXIS 610 (September 30, 2021) (McLaughlin, J.). Damages awarded were under the Wrongful Death Act.  Noneconomic damages are permitted.  The verdict was substantial, $10 million.  Mathematical formula is not necessary.  There was ample evidence supporting the jury’s award.  There was heavy psychological and emotional toll from Sharon’s death.  Robert Kimble testified that he goes to her gravesite every day.  Talked about the gravesite.  Father’s routine of visiting Sharon’s grave was testified to.  Robert Kimble testified, articulating the gravity of his loss and movingly describing his despondency.  He testified about his overarching loneliness, which led him to move in with his elderly mother because he could not bear to live alone.  He had a portrait of Sharon tattooed on his calf, and her initials on his ring finger.  Talked about the memories of his wife.  This, even though there was a PFA against him in another state.  The verdict was not against the weight of the evidence.  The verdict was upheld.


Clauss-Walton v. Gulbin, Pa. No. 20 CV 4860 (C.P. Lackawanna May 21, 2021) (Nealon, J.).  Defendant, Marie A. Gulbin (“Gulbin”), has filed a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer seeking to strike the allegations of reckless conduct and the claim for punitive damages contained in Count II of the Complaint filed by plaintiff, Crystal Clauss- Walton (“Clauss-Walton”), in this motor vehicle litigation.

Clauss-Walton alleges that she was traveling on State Route 247 in Greenfield Township on October 24, 2019, while Gulbin was proceeding in the opposite direction on the same road, and “suddenly and without warning, [Gulbin] crossed over the double yellow center line and struck Clauss-Walton’s vehicle head-on causing serious, severe and life-altering injuries.” She avers that based upon symptoms that Gulbin had experienced, Gulbin “knew or should have known that she had a urinary tract infection (‘UTI’)” and that if “UTIs are left untreated for prolonged periods of time, they become dangerous enough to cause fainting or dizzy spells.” Clauss-Walton specifically asserts that Gulbin “passed out while operating her motor vehicle as a result of her untreated UTI, causing her vehicle to cross the double yellow center line and strike [Clauss-Walton’s] vehicle head-on.”

As a result, the court refused to dismiss punitive damages at the preliminary objection stage.


Doughitt v. Saber Healthcare Group, LLC, C.P. Lackawanna No. 20 CV 3136 (April 22, 2021) (Nealon, J.) The estate and daughter of a former nursing home resident has commenced this medical professional liability action alleging corporate and individual negligence and recklessness by the named defendants which caused the resident’s death.  In the prayers for relief seeking damages under the Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8301, and the Survival Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8302, plaintiff demands compensatory and punitive damages.  Defendants have filed a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer seeking to strike those claims for punitive damages on the ground that they are insufficient as a matter of law under Section 505(a) of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) Act, 40 P.S. § 1303.505(a).

Section 505(a) comports with Pennsylvania case law governing punitive damages and provides that punitive damages are recoverable for a health care provider’s “willful or wanton conduct or reckless indifference to the rights of others.”  Although wanton and willful misconduct and recklessness are conditions of the mind that may be averred generally pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1019(b), plaintiff nonetheless has alleged facts that would support a finding of wanton conduct or reckless indifference by defendants.  Specifically, plaintiff contends that defendants intentionally increased the number of infirm residents with acute and complex health conditions in order to increase their governmental reimbursements, knowingly established staffing levels that created recklessly high resident-to-staff ratios that prevented their staff from properly caring for residents, repeatedly ignored staff reports documenting alarming increases in infections and illnesses involving their residents, allowed nurses and aides to make fraudulent entries in residents’ charts which misrepresented the type and degree of care provided, and consciously prioritized their profits over the residents’ safety, which conduct and neglect caused the decedent’s infection-related death.

In a survival action, the decedent’s estate pursues claims that the decedent could have asserted if [s]he lived, while the wrongful death action is brought by specified relatives of the decedent to compensate those surviving family members for the losses that they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death.  For that reason, the decedent’s estate may recover punitive damages in a survival action if the decedent could have recovered them had [s]he survived, but punitive damages are not recoverable in a wrongful death action.  Consequently, defendants’ demurrer will be sustained only with regard to plaintiff’s punitive damages claim in the wrongful death action, but will be overruled in all other respects.


Bert Co. v. Turk, 2021 Pa. Super. LEXIS 270 (May 5, 2021) (Kunselman, J.)  Notwithstanding the various issues on this non-solicitation agreements case which resulted in punitive damages, the major issue was that four tortfeasors largely focused on the punitive damage award and the court had the question as to how to fix the ratio of those.  The court adopted the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Texas and the Ninth Circuit.  Computation of damages ratios in multi-defendant cases are on a per-defendant basis, rather than by aggregating all of the compensatory and punitive damages on the per-judgment basis.  Because the tortfeasors used a per-judgment calculation to derive their damages ratio, that ratio is erroneous as a matter of law.  The ratio guidepost is not strictly a compensatory to punitive damages question.  Instead, the guidepost can also consider the potential harm a plaintiff could have suffered due to defendant’s misconduct.  Here, there was intentional misconduct.  If the wealthiest persons know that their conduct will cost them exactly “x” dollars, they can determine in advance whether injuring someone is a worthwhile investment.  Due process does not command this result.  Where defendant desired to inflict greater harm than occurred, the defendant may not convert the partial failure of its wicked scheme, a plaintiff’s goof fortune, or a plaintiff’s mitigation of damages into a constitutional defense.  In such cases, the courts must therefore calculate damage ratios to reflect the jury’s ancient prerogative to punish defendants for their desire to harm or for wanton risk-taking as follows where “ “fC” represents the total, potential harm to a plaintiff:


VR   =   ───────

P1C + P1fC

The court was very impressed by the fact there was a specific intention to hurt the plaintiff.  There was an attempt to actually annihilate the business.

Given the total disregard for the rule of law that these four tortfeasors displayed, the punitive damages that the jury awarded are light years away from the outer limits of the Due Process Clause. Considering the potential harm that Mr. Turk and the First National Family attempted to inflict, the punitive damages that the jury actually awarded in no way implicate a federal, constitutional violation. Their claim that this award of punitive damages violated the Fourteenth Amendment is frivolous.


Fritz v. BNG Aesthetics, No. CV-20-0553 (C.P. Lycoming October 28, 2020) (Linhardt, J.) Lack of informed consent can lead to punitive damages if it is pled that the doctor intentionally lied to plaintiff and performed a procedure different than the procedure discussed.  This would be enough to support punitive damages.  Since this is not negligence, substantial factor does not have to be pled, although in this case it seems to be present anyway.  Plaintiff has to replead not only that the doctor provided negligent treatment (which seems like an error in the wording of the court) but that he knowingly provided a different treatment than that discussed with plaintiff.


Evans v. Lavallee, No. CV-20-0879 (C.P. Lycoming December 1, 2020) (Ryan, J.)  Punitive damages against plastic surgeon Dr. Lavallee and anesthesiologist Dr. Pastore and CRNA Adkins.  The allegations against Pastore and CRNA Adkins are more than a mere failure to diagnose a serious condition.  The allegations represent a serious disregard for several protocols and procedures.  The court did infer that Pastore and CRNA Adkins were subjectively aware or should have been aware of the risk of harm to plaintiff, that is, that when the oxygen level is three times higher than it was supposed to be, the likelihood of a fire starting is significantly increased.  It can reasonably infer that in spite of this appreciation, Pastore and Adkins continually failed to decrease the oxygen level in conscious disregard of the risk which caused or contributed to the harm.  In one paragraph, the court addressed the damages against Dr. Lavallee and said that the claims of what Lavallee did or failed to do was “reckless”.  There was a failure to plead a subjective appreciation of the risk, and there were no allegations included that the court could reasonably infer the same.  Amendment will be permitted as to Lavallee.


Mader v. Duquesne Light Co., 2020 Pa. LEXIS 5891 (November 18, 2020) Todd, J.  In this appeal by allowance, we consider the limits on a trial court’s discretion to order a new trial on all damages where a jury’s award on certain damages was based on stipulations or was otherwise unimpeachable. As we agree with the Superior Court that the trial court herein abused its discretion, we affirm.

In April 2013, Mader sued Appellee Duquesne Light Company (“Duquesne Light”), the owner of the power line the ladder came into contact with, in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Mader alleged that Duquesne Light’s negligence in maintaining the electric lines too close to the ground caused his injuries and that Duquesne Light acted with reckless indifference to his safety; he also sought punitive damages. At the conclusion of a trial by jury, Duquesne Light was found to be 60% negligent and Mader was found to be 40% negligent for his injuries.

Importantly, for purposes of this appeal, the jury awarded Mader $500,000 in compensatory damages, which was molded to $300,000 to account for his 40% negligence. At Mader’s request, the trial court instructed the jury that he was entitled to compensation for past medical expenses, which were stipulated to by the parties; future medical expenses; and past and future lost earnings. The jury was also instructed on, and given an itemized verdict slip for, damages for past and future pain and suffering; embarrassment and humiliation; loss of ability to enjoy the pleasures of life, and disfigurement.

Both the trial court and the Superior Court concluded that Mader is entitled to a new trial on noneconomic damages. Additionally, the courts determined, and Mader agrees, that he is entitled to a new trial on past and future earnings. While Duquesne Light contested the lower courts’ determination on past and future earnings, we denied allocatur on that issue, and, thus, it is not before our Court in this appeal. Finally, while Mader goes on at some length about a trial court’s broad discretion to award a new trial generally, the question before us is more discrete. At its core, the related questions before our Court are whether, generally, a new trial may be awarded on distinct damages, and, more specifically, whether the trial court had discretion to order a new trial on past and future medical expenses primarily because it found the jury’s determination on compensatory damages for pain and suffering and lost earnings to be defective.

We reject the notion that a per se rule exists requiring a remand for all damages whenever a new trial is awarded on certain damages. All damages may be relitigated in a new trial, or certain discrete damages may be upheld and excised from the award of a new trial on other damages. This being the case, and consistent with other areas of jury verdict error, we find that, as an initial matter, a trial court has discretion to order a new trial on certain types of damages, exclusive of other types of damages that were properly awarded by a jury in the first trial.

What seemingly has not been articulated by our Court, and, thus, is a matter of first impression, is the standard by which a trial court should make the determination of the proper scope of an award of a new trial. In the context of determining whether a new trial should be granted solely for damages, or for damages and liability, we have declared the following standard: “A new trial limited to the issue of damages will be granted where: (1) the issue of damages is not ‘intertwined’ with the issue of liability; and (2) where the issue of liability has been ‘fairly determined’ or is ‘free from doubt.’” Kiser, 648 A.2d at 8 (citations omitted).

We believe it appropriate to apply a similar standard to the question of whether a new trial should be granted for all damages, or just certain damages tainted by jury error. Thus, we hold that, when faced with the question of the full or partial granting of a new trial on damages, a trial court should discern whether the properly awarded damages in the first trial were “fairly determined,” and, if so, whether they are sufficiently independent from, and are not “intertwined” with, the erroneously determined damages.

Thus, for the above reasons, we hold that there is no per se rule with respect to the types of damages to be considered at a new trial, and that trial courts are not mandated to award a new damages trial on all damages. Furthermore, we conclude that a jury’s award of certain types of damages may be distinct and independent of the award of other types of damages, so that it is within the discretion of the trial court to award a new trial on all damages or only certain damages. In doing so, however, we stress that a trial court should consider whether the properly awarded damages were fairly determined, and, if so, the interrelatedness of the types of damages and whether the proper damages award can stand independent of the erroneously awarded (or erroneously not awarded) damages.

We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding a new trial on the stipulated past medical expenses. Turning to the trial court’s grant of a new trial for future medical expenses, we first note that the jury was presented with conflicting expert testimony regarding Mader’s future medical care and needs. Specifically, Mader’s expert witness testified that he would require multiple knee and hip replacements, a part-time personal care aide until he reached the age of 65, and a full-time aide thereafter. Further, he opined that Mader would need a new house. Conversely, and in stark contrast, Duquesne Light’s expert witnesses testified that Mader’s wounds were well healed, and that he required little preventative treatment and minor equipment to assist him with his gait. They testified that any cognitive and residual physical issues, such as joint replacement, were preexisting or due to Mader’s failure to comply with his doctor’s treatment prescriptions, and were not a result of the accident. Specifically, as noted by the Superior Court, the evidence established that, despite his injuries, Mader was able to travel and lead a fairly active lifestyle; that Mader’s injuries did not place him at any greater risk for needing knee and hip replacement surgeries than someone who – like Mader – had a pre-existing arthritic condition; and that, even if he did need surgery, repeated knee and hip replacements would not be necessary. Additionally, the jury also heard testimony offered by Duquesne Light that Mader’s condition did not require him to obtain a new home or receive the assistance of a home health aide.

While both parties and the lower tribunals agree that the $0 award for noneconomic damages was in error, we disagree with the logic of condemning the jury’s calculation of future medical expenses due to its failure to award noneconomic damages. As noted, damages for medical expenses are different in nature from damages for pain and suffering. Furthermore, the record supports the jury’s award of future medical expenses, and, again, the dollar amount awarded was slightly greater than the estimates offered by Duquesne Light. That being the case, we reject the notion that, simply because the jury erred in failing to award pain and suffering damages, that resulted in an erroneous award of damages for future medical expenses. Indeed, carried to its logical conclusion, if the jury was so irrational regarding its pain and suffering award that it could not rationally render an award for medical expenses, then no aspects of the jury’s decision-making, including its finding of liability, could be allowed to stand. Not even Mader suggests this, and, indeed, he argues that the jury properly reached its liability determination. We, thus, likewise reject this reason relied upon by the trial court as a basis to award a new trial.

We hold that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding a new trial on future medical expenses. In sum, we find the record supports the jury’s award of damages for past and future medical expenses. These types of damages are discrete and are independent from noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering. Furthermore, in the circumstances of this case at least, these damages were fairly determined and are not so intertwined with the noneconomic damages (to be assessed in the new trial) as to require their being re-litigated as well. Additionally, the jury in the new trial may be entitled to hear evidence about Mader’s past and potential future treatment, but only as it relates to his pain and suffering. Nevertheless, with respect to medical expenses, in our view, Mader should not be permitted to re-litigate these damages in a new trial. Thus, we reject the trial court’s justifications for awarding a new trial on past and future medical expenses, and, thus, hold that the trial court abused its discretion in this regard. Consequently, for the abovestated reasons, we affirm the Superior Court’s order.


McMichael v. McMichael, 2020 Pa. LEXIS 5898 (S. Ct. November 18, 2020) Todd, J.  In this appeal by allowance, we consider whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying a motion for a new trial following a jury award of zero dollars in damages in a wrongful death action. Upon review, we conclude that the trial court erred in denying a new trial with respect to the non-economic damages award, and, therefore, we affirm in part and reverse in part the Superior Court’s decision.

The jury awarded Wife, as executrix of Decedent’s estate, $225,000 in survival damages, which was reduced to $135,000 to reflect the jury’s finding that Decedent was 40% negligent, and, of particular import in this appeal, zero dollars in wrongful death damages.  Wife sought a new trial on her claims for wrongful death and survival damages, and P&J sought judgment notwithstanding the verdict, or a new trial on liability. With regard to Wife’s motion, and relevant to the instant appeal, the trial court concluded, inter alia, that Wife failed to present sufficient evidence of the value of her economic and non-economic loss for wrongful death damages and, thus, the jury was free to award zero dollars in damages on the wrongful death claim.

A survival action under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8302 is brought by the administrator or executor of a decedent’s estate in order to recover damages for the decedent’s pain and suffering, the loss of gross earning power from the time of injury to death, and the loss of earning power, less personal maintenance expenses, for the estimated working life span of the decedent. Kiser, 648 A.2d at 4. By contrast, a wrongful deathful action pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 8301 is designed to compensate the spouse, children, and parents of the deceased for the pecuniary loss they have sustained as a result of the decedent’s death, and damages may include the present value of services that would have been rendered to the family had the decedent lived, as well as funeral and medical expenses. Id. In each case, the burden of proving damages is on the plaintiff, and the amount and items of pecuniary damage cannot be presumed but must be proven by facts and, where possible, with certainty. See Vrabel v. Com., Dep’t of Transp., 844 A.2d 595, 601 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004), abrogation in part recognized by Ewing v. Potkul, 171 A.3d 10 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017).

We first consider the economic aspect of the jury’s verdict of zero dollars in damages for wrongful death. It is undisputed that Wife did not present any evidence of medical, funeral, or estate administration expenses. Thus, Wife’s potential recovery for economic damages was limited to the loss of Decedent’s services. In this regard, Wife offered her own testimony that Decedent performed home repairs, mowed the lawn, did most of the cooking, and drove her to work when the weather was bad. Neither Wife, nor her economic expert, however, testified to the estimated value of these contributions, or the cost of hiring someone to perform these tasks.

We find that Wife failed to offer sufficient evidence to support her claim for economic wrongful death damages, and thus conclude that the trial court did not err in denying her motion for a new trial on that basis, we cannot say the same with respect to the jury’s award of zero dollars for non-economic wrongful death damages.

In the case sub judice, we find that the amount of the verdict − zero dollars – with respect to non-economic wrongful death damages bears no reasonable relation to the proffered evidence of loss suffered by Wife. Wife testified that she and Decedent were happily married for 30 years, and had three children together. She testified that they enjoyed spending their leisure time together, often working on projects around the house, such as planting trees and blueberry bushes. Id. at 155Wife testified that she and Decedent planned to build a log cabin on a piece of property they owned, and intended to reside there. Id. at 161. Wife also testified that Decedent fixed her breakfast every morning, and would surprise her with spontaneous “date nights.”  Id. at 162.  As this Court has recognized, things “such as companionship, comfort, society, guidance, solace, and protection which go into the vase of family happiness [ ] are the things for which a wrongdoer must pay when he shatters the vase.” Spangler, 153 A.2d at 492. Further, in contrast to the proof required for economic damages, “[t]he fact that there is no mathematical formula whereby compassionately bestowed benefits can be converted into a precise number of bank notes does not mean that the tortfeasor will be excused from making suitable reimbursement for their loss.” Id.

Wife might have presented more extensive or detailed testimony regarding her relationship with Decedent. However, based on the testimony recounted above, and bearing in mind that, in contrast to economic damages, non-economic damages are not subject to ready proof, see Spangler, 153 A.2d at 492, we conclude that the jury’s award of zero dollars in non-economic wrongful death damages bears no reasonable relation to the loss suffered by Wife, and, therefore, that it shocks one’s sense of justice. Thus, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Wife’s motion for a new trial based on the jury’s award of zero dollars in non-economic wrongful death damages. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, we affirm the Superior Court’s order in part and reverse in part, and remand this matter to that court, for remand to the trial court, for a new trial on damages for wrongful death, limited to non-economic damages.


In this case from our office, Pittinger v. Hartzell, No. 20-0239 (C.P. Union July 27, 2020) Anderson, S.J., the court will allow punitive damages to go forward because of evidence that the doctor knew he caused a tear in the lens capsule at the time of cornea surgery, and even though the patient was seen a number of times thereafter, no one ever looked through the vitreous at the retina.  Had they done so, clearly they would have seen that capsular material had entered the vitreous with the potential of causing blindness.  In fact, the patient became blind.  The fact that the doctor knew he caused the tear and nevertheless did not do any follow-up to identify the possibility of capsule material, even though the patient was blind immediately after the surgery, could lend itself to the proof of deliberate indifference and hence punitive damages.


DAMAGES-COLLATERAL SOURCE RULE-WORKERS’ COMPENSATION PAYMENTS- Nazarak v. Waite, 216 A.3d 1093 (Pa. Super. August 2, 2019) Stevens, P.J.E.  Plaintiff put in evidence of workers’ compensation payments, lien, and need to pay back.  Defendant objected to this as violation of the collateral source rule.  The court noted that the collateral source rule is intended to protect the plaintiff, but it was plaintiff who put in this evidence.  The evidence also did not suggest liability.  To the extent that the trial court erred in permitting the plaintiff to enter into evidence the fact that he settled his workers’ compensation claim, we agree with the trial court that the error does not constitute reversible error.  Evidence of a settlement should not go into evidence.


Ponzini v. Monroe County, 2019 U.S. App. LEXIS 34731 (3d Cir. November 21, 2019) McKee, C.J., pursuant to I.O.P. 5.7 does not constitute binding precedent.  When health care institutions act or fail to act with intentional or reckless disregard for a patient’s health and welfare, they may be held liable for punitive damages.  

The record is filled with evidence of policies ignored, medical records not reviewed, medical orders not followed, medication prescribed but not given (after verification), and PrimeCare ignoring nursing staff complaints about insufficient staffing and doctors not visiting MCCF sufficiently frequently. The evidence is clearly sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to conclude that PrimeCare recklessly disregarded Barbados’s welfare; and the jury here did just that. 

Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs (as we must), we conclude that the jury could easily find that PrimeCare is a company that regularly misrepresents its operational structure, fails to properly supervise its staff, and takes affirmative steps to mislead the public and the government. Therefore, the record supports the jury’s conclusion that PrimeCare’s actions were “of such an outrageous nature as to demonstrate intentional, willful, wanton or reckless conduct.” 

As noted at the outset, the District Court should only have set the punitive damages award aside if “no reasonable inference from the facts alleged support[ed] [the] award of punitive damages.” That is simply not the case here. Therefore, we will reverse the District Court’s order vacating the award of punitive damages.


Carlini v. Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc., 2019 Pa. Super. LEXIS 911 (September 13, 2019) Nichols, J. Appellant/Cross-Appellee Glenn O. Hawbaker, Inc. (Hawbaker) and Appellee/Cross-Appellant Susan Carlini (Carlini) appeal from the judgment entered in favor of Carlini in her actions for wrongful discharge and invasion of privacy. Hawbaker challenges various evidentiary rulings and the amount of damages awarded by the jury. Carlini argues that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury that it could award non-economic compensatory damages for the wrongful discharge claim. We affirm the jury’s verdict as to Hawbaker’s liability for Carlini’s wrongful discharge and invasion of privacy claims. We also affirm the compensatory damages awarded for the invasion of privacy claim and the economic damages awarded for the wrongful discharge claim. Nevertheless, we vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial limited to the issues of punitive damages and the non-economic damages for the wrongful discharge claim.

On this record, Carlini did not present testimony to establish that the financial records satisfied the business record exception to the hearsay rule, and the trial court abused its discretion in permitting the admission of the financial records and testimony regarding Hawbaker’s net worth. See Maisano, 204 A.3d at 523; Brown, 202 A.3d at 708; see also Keystone Dedicated Logistics, 77 A.3d at 12 (vacating the judgment and remanding for a new trial on damages where, among other things, the trial court abused its discretion in admitting invoices that were not properly authenticated at trial). Because this evidence was the only evidence on which the jury could have based its calculation of the punitive damages, Hawbaker is entitled to a new trial limited to the issue of punitive damages for the wrongful discharge and invasion of privacy claims.

The trial court denied Carlini’s request for a jury instruction concerning non-economic damages incurred as result of the wrongful discharge, noting that “[t]he cases relied on by [Carlini] either do not directly discuss what non-economic damages are permitted in a wrongful discharge award or are not controlling in this matter since they are from different jurisdictions.” Op. and Order at 11. The trial court, however, failed to acknowledge the theoretical underpinnings for the award of non-economic damages. Based upon the foregoing, we conclude that the victim of a wrongful discharge is entitled to recover damages for emotional distress that can be reasonably expected to result from the wrongful discharge. See Kilpatrick, 632 F. Supp. at 550; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 905 cmt. a. Because the trial court committed an error of law by failing to instruct the jury that it could award non-economic damages under such circumstances, the court abused its discretion in denying Carlini’s post-trial motion. See Stalsitz, 814 A.2d at 771. Therefore, Carlini is entitled to a new trial limited to the issue of compensatory damages for the wrongful discharge claim.

Accordingly, we affirm the jury’s verdict as to Hawbaker’s liability for Carlini’s wrongful discharge and invasion of privacy claims. We also affirm the compensatory damages awarded for the invasion of privacy claim and the economic damages awarded for the wrongful discharge claim. We vacate the judgment and remand for a new trial limited to the issues of punitive damages and the non-economic damages for the wrongful discharge claim.

Judgment vacated. Case remanded with instructions. Jurisdiction is relinquished.


Jester, et al. v. Hutt, et al., 3rd Cir. Nos. 18-3114 and 18-3197 (August 28, 2019).This cases discusses how to handle punitive damages when the actual damage award was nominal.  The Court discusses ratio guideposts and how the United States Supreme Court has addressed this.  How do courts evaluate constitutionality of punitive damage awards?  For starters, they have recognized that higher ratios between nominal and punitive awards “are to be expected.”  Romanski, 428 F.3d at 645; see also Saunders, 526 F.3d at 154; Fabri v. United Techs, Int’l, Inc., 387 F.3d 109, 126-27 (2d Cir. 2004); Williams, 352 F.3d at 1016.  And after acknowledging that the punitive award can exceed the single-digit ratio, courts often “compare it to punitive awards examined by courts ‘in [similar cases] to find limits and proportions.’” Romanski, 428 F.3d at 645 (quoting Lee v. Edwards, 101  F.3d 805, 811 (2d Cir. 1996)); see, e.g., Fabri, 387 F3.d at 126-127 (comparing punitive damages award to others in similar cases); Williams, 352 F.3d at 1016 n. 78 (same); see also Saunders, 526 F.3rd at 154 (comparing the punitive damages award “to other cases involving similar claims” and assessing whether a lower award would act as a meaningful deterrent). 


Shiflett v. Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc., 2019 Pa. LEXIS 5420 (Pa. S.Ct. September 26, 2019) Donohue, J.  The court, on special verdict form, listed each defendant separately but then had one question for damages.  The plaintiff should not have been permitted to proceed against one of the defendants because of the statute of limitations.  The Supreme Court said that the Superior Court was wrong to send the matter back for trial.  It is up to the defendant to say if they wanted damages broken down between the parties and they did not do that.  There would be no retrial on damages.  The court has adopted the “general verdict rule” which provides that when the jury returns a general verdict involving two or more issues and its verdict is supported by at least one issue, the verdict will not be reversed on appeal. We recognize the concern of the Superior Court and the hospital that without a new trial there is a possibility that the plaintiffs obtained an award that may include damages awarded on a time-barred theory of liability that should not have been submitted to the jury.  The hospital was aware of this possibility throughout the course of the trial and yet failed to request special interrogatories that could have prevented the problem.  


Dutra Group vs. Batterton, 2019 U.S. LEXIS 4202.   This case asks whether a mariner may recover punitive damages on a claim that he was injured as a result of the unseaworthy condition of the vessel.   We have twice confronted similar questions in the past several decades, and our holdings in both cases were based on the particular claims involved.  In Miles, which concerned a wrongful-death claim under the general maritime law, we held that recovery was limited to pecuniary damages, which did not include loss of society.  498 U.S., at 23.  And in Atlantic Sounding, after examining centuries of relevant case law, we held that the award on the traditional maritime claim of maintenance and cure.  557 U.S. at 4017.  Here, because there is no historical basis for allowing punitive damages in unseaworthiness actions, and in order to promote uniformity with the way courts have applied parallel statutory causes of action, we hold that punitive damages remain unavailable in unseaworthiness actions.


Murga v. Lehigh Valley Physicians Grp. 2018 Pa. Dist. & Cnty. Dec. LEXIS 3053 (November 26, 2018) Johnson, J.-Court would not grant partial summary judgment on negligent affliction of emotional distress claim. Plaintiff argued that NIED claims have evolved and broadened in Pennsylvania and that her NIED claims were appropriate under multiple theories of recovery including the duty of care arising from a special relationship, a physical impact theory and a bystander theory. The court distinguished between transitory, nonrecurring physical phenomena like fright as opposed to depression, nightmares, stress and anxiety. Plaintiff’s severe emotional and psychological injuries which were accompanied by physical injuries, pain and suffering are sufficient to satisfy the physical harm requirement. 


Dittman v. UPMC, 2018 Pa. LEXIS 6051 (Pa. S.Ct. November 21, 2018) Baer, J.  We 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. We also examine the scope of Pennsylvania’s economic loss doctrine, specifically whether it permits recovery in negligence for purely pecuniary damages. For the reasons discussed below, we hold that 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. We further hold 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, we now vacate its judgment.

We conclude that the lower courts erred in finding that UPMC did not owe a duty to Employees to exercise reasonable care in collecting and storing their personal and financial information on its computer systems. This conclusion notwithstanding, Employees’ claim cannot proceed if we nonetheless hold that it is barred by the economic loss doctrine.

Purely “economic loss” may be recoverable under a variety of tort theories. The question, thus, is not whether the damages are physical or economic. Rather, the question of whether the plaintiff may maintain an action in tort for purely economic loss turns on the determination of the source of the duty plaintiff claims the defendant owed. A breach of a duty which arises under the provisions of a contract between the parties must be redressed under contract, and a tort action will not lie. A breach of duty arising independently of any contract duties between the parties, however, may support a tort action.

Here, there is a claim under § 552 of the Restatement of Torts which does not require privity.  The Economic Loss Doctrine is inapplicable to negligent representation claims under § 552.


Gray v. Huntzinger, 147 A.3d 924 (Pa. Super. 2016).  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court clearly articulated in Kazatsky (Kazatsky v. King David Memorial Park, Inc., 527 A.2d 988 (1987)) that to the extent the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is recognized in this Commonwealth, recovery is limited to those cases in which competent medical evidence of emotional distress is presented by the claimant.  It is also supported by Hackney v. Woodring, 652 A.2d 291 (1994).  Because we have determined that Gray was not entitled to recover for IIED based on the lack of medical evidence presented at trial, we need not address the remainder of Appellants’ claims.


Donaldson v. Davidson Brothers, Inc., 144 A.3d 93 (Pa. Super. 2016).  This case arises out of a fatal three-way motor vehicle accident.  Donnelly rear-ended Donaldson.  Donaldson was thrust into the opposite lane of oncoming traffic, where she collided head-on with LJF.  LJF settled property damage claim with Davidson, but in the release reserved any claim for loss of contract.  LJF’s contract claim was dismissed by the lower court as violating the economic loss doctrine.  The court said that the economic loss doctrine does not bar the claim since there was undoubtedly and agreeably some property damage.  The economic loss doctrine provides that no cause of action exists for negligence that results solely in economic damages unaccompanied by physical injury or property damage.  It is beyond dispute that some property damage occurred.  However, LJF’s claim was dismissed anyway because they did not say in their pleading what the contract was that was violated, and the claim was not sufficiently explicit.