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Vorhes v. Mittal Steel USA

March 24, 2008

DENNIS VORHES, AN INDIVIDUAL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MITTAL STEEL USA, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Mittal Steel US, Inc. ("Mittal"), International Steel Group ("ISG"), and Pristine Resources' (collectively, "Defendants") Motion for Summary Judgment [18]. For the following reasons, said motion is DENIED.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dennis Vorhees was severely injured in a dirtbike accident on Defendants' abandoned mine site (hereinafter "Mine 51") in Bentleyville and Ellsworth Boroughs in Washington County, PA on April 9, 2005. (Docket No. 20 at ¶1). Plaintiff drove his dirt bike over a blind cliff, and fell sixty feet into Pigeon Creek below. (Docket No. 20 at ¶1). It is alleged Defendants' negligence by way of the failure to guard or warn Plaintiff of a dangerous condition at Mine 51, described as a blind cliff, proximately caused his injuries. (Docket No. 1-2, ¶ 16). Plaintiff further alleges that this cliff is not visible from the approach area, that there are no warning or danger signs warning of the cliff, and that Plaintiff inadvertently drove his dirt bike over the cliff because he was unable to see the cliff and no signs warned him of such a danger. (Docket No. 1-2 at ¶ 9, 11).

It is undisputed that a similar accident occurred in 2000 at Mine 51 in which two cars drove over the cliff and landed in Pigeon Creek. (Docket No. 20 at ¶18). At the time of the 2000 accident, Mine 51 was owned by Beth Energy. After the accident, Beth Energy contracted with MineVironment to monitor Mine 51 and to place danger and warning signs on the property to prevent the occurrence of another such accident. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 19). The Beth Energy employee responsible for Mine 51, Jay Hasbrouck, retired in 2003. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 25). Thereafter, Larry Neff, Mr. Hasbrouck's former subordinate, took over his responsibility for Mine 51. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 25).

The mine was later sold by Beth Energy to Defendantsin April of 2003. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 14, 25). MineVironment continued to provide its services to Defendants until November of 2003. Thereafter, the services afforded by MineVironment were terminated because Defendants determined that attempts to keep recreational users off of Mine 51 were futile. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 19, 23). Larry Neff was responsible for Mine 51 when the accident involving Plaintiff occurred in April of 2005. (Docket No. 20 at ¶ 25).

Defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that they are entitled to immunity from liability under the Pennsylvania Recreational Land and Water Use Act. (Docket No. 18 at ¶¶ 5-7.) They also contend that Pristine Resources, a subsidiary of Mittal and ISG, is the true owner of the property. (Docket No. 18 at ¶ 9.) To that end they maintain that the piercing the corporate veil doctrine is not applicable to hold Mittal or ISG liable for the injuries claimed by the Plaintiff. (Docket No. 18 at ¶ 11.)

III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County alleging negligence against the Defendants on July 25, 2006. (Docket No. 1-2.)

Subsequently, on August 24, 2006, the complaint was removed to this Court based on diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Docket No. 1.)

On October 16, 2006, Judge Hardiman exempted this matter from this Court's Alternative Dispute Resolution Process, and consolidated the case, for discovery purposes only, with Civil Action No. 06-701, Estate of David A. Creek, et. al. v. Mittal Steel USA, Inc., et. al. The cases then proceeded through discovery.

On May 30, 2007, Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment, (Docket No. 18.) to which, Plaintiff filed his Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on July 30, 2007. (Docket No. 29.) Following same, on August 24, 2007, Defendants filed their Reply Brief in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 35.) ...


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