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Ferranti v. Martin

January 8, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)


Before the court are defendants' motions in limine (Docs. 21-24) and plaintiffs' motion to strike (Doc. 28). Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

This case arises from an April 7, 2005 collision between the automobile driven by Plaintiff Thomas R. Ferranti, Jr. (herinafter "Plaintiff") and the tractor-trailer driven by Defendant Willie Lee Rowell, Jr. According to the allegations in the complaint, at around 1:30 p.m. on that day, plaintiff was driving north on Interstate 81 near Scranton, Pennsylvania and operating at a safe and legal speed. Defendant Rowell was in his truck, immediately behind the plaintiff. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendant Rowell was driving "in a reckless, careless and negligent manner." (Complaint, filed in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas and filed as an exhibit with this court (Doc. 2) at ¶¶ 14, 18 (hereinafter "Complt.")). Rowell crashed into the rear bumper of plaintiff's vehicle so violently that his "license plate numbers were imprinted in the bumper of" Ferranti's car. (Id. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff suffered a number of severe and permanent injuries from the collision, as well as mental anguish. Plaintiffs brought their original complaint on August 1, 2006 in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania. The complaint sought damages against Rowell for negligent and reckless conduct, and against the other defendants, who were owners of the business for which Rowell was working at the time of the accident, for vicarious liability and negligence in supervision and training. The plaintiffs sought punitive damages from the defendants for their allegedly reckless behavior. Plaintiff's wife also brought a complaint for loss of consortium. Defendants removed the case to this court on August 30, 2006 (Doc. 1). After we denied plaintiff's motion to preclude punitive damages from the case, the parties conducted discovery. When discovery completed, we scheduled a date for a pre-trial conference. Defendants then filed a number of motions in limine and plaintiffs responded. Plaintiffs also filed a motion to strike two of defendants' motions. The defendants then responded to that motion to strike, bringing the case to its present posture.

II. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The plaintiffs are citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The individual defendants are citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the defendant corporation is a Virginia corporation with a principal place of business in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Because we are sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

III. Discussion

We will address each of the instant motions in turn.

A. Motion to Exclude Punitive Damages at Trial

Defendants move to preclude recovery of punitive damages at trial. (Doc. 21). They contend that plaintiff has developed no evidence that demonstrates the defendant driver engaged in the sort of recklessly indifferent behavior which would allow recovery of punitive damages. They contend that the driver was not aware that he had struck the plaintiff's vehicle and that he was driving at an appropriate rate of speed. Plaintiffs respond that the facts of the case--that the defendant driver followed far too close to the plaintiff, that he "fled" the scene of the accident, and that he appeared indifferent to the consequences of his actions--all demonstrate the reckless indifference necessary to obtain punitive damages in Pennsylvania.

Under Pennsylvania law, which we apply in this diversity case, "punitive damages are awarded only for outrageous conduct, that is, for acts done with a bad motive or with reckless indifference to the interests of others." Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 494 A.2d 1088, 1098 (Pa. 1985) (emphasis in original). Reckless indifference exists "where the 'actor knows, or has reason to know, . . . of facts which create a high degree of risk of physical harm to another, and deliberately proceeds to act, or to fail to act, in conscious disregard of, or indifference to, that risk.'" SHV Coal v. Continental Grain Co., 587 A.2d 702, 704 (Pa. 1991) (quoting Martin, 494 A.2d at 1097-98) (emphasis added). After the plaintiffs present their evidence at trial, a jury may conclude that the defendant driver's close following of the plaintiff driver's car does not constitute evidence that the driver had reason to know the risk his behavior caused and deliberately ignored that risk. The question of deliberate indifference is a question of fact, however, and one left to be resolved by the jury with the use of relevant evidence. Since evidence of how defendant drove his truck is relevant to the applicability of punitive damages, we will not exclude it. See FED. R. EVID. 401 (defining "relevant evidence" as "evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determine of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence."). The defendants' motion on this point will be denied.

B. Motion to Exclude Expert Testimony on Potential Future Medical Costs at the Time of Trial

Defendants also move to exclude expert testimony on plaintiffs' future medical expenses (Doc. 22). They argue that testimony by plaintiffs' medical expert of future potential medical expenses is too speculative and lacks a reasonable explanation for the basis of his estimate. Plaintiffs respond that the opinions of Dr. Robert O'Leary were the result of his August 2007 examination of plaintiff Thomas Ferranti, and that he based his assessment of the costs of future care on the results of this examination and his consultation of the plaintiff's medical records. Since plaintiffs have not yet ...

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