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Gagnon v. Lemoyne Sleeper Co.

November 20, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District

(Judge Kane)



Pending before the Court is Defendant Lemoyne Sleeper's motion in limine. (Doc. No. 16.) Plaintiffs Antoine Gagnon and Christiane Peloquin are residents of Quebec, Canada. They bring this negligence suit for damages incurred on September 1, 2004, when Defendant's truck struck a third-party truck, then causing a second collision with Plaintiffs' vehicle while Plaintiffs were driving southbound along Interstate 81. After impact, Plaintiffs exited their vehicle to find that Defendant's driver, Mr. Hartmoyer, had died at the driver's wheel of his truck. Plaintiffs allegedly sustained multiple injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") from the accident.

Since the accident, Plaintiff Peloquin has received $20,498 and Plaintiff Gagnon, $120,409, from the Canadian Government's Société de l'Assurance Automobile du Quebec (SAAQ) for medical costs and lost wages. SAAQ has asserted subrogation liens against both Plaintiffs for any recovery they receive in this action. Plaintiffs seek damages to compensate them for PTSD, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.


1. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

The parties agree that Pennsylvania law on negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED") applies to the claim for recovery based on PTSD. Defendant argues, however, that Plaintiffs should not be able to submit evidence relating to PTSD caused by the sight of seeing Mr. Hartmoyer's dead body because Pennsylvania law on NIED only allows recovery for emotional damages incurred by viewing the traumatic injury of a relative.

Pennsylvania law allows a plaintiff to recover for NIED by either experiencing a physical impact or by viewing a physical impact. Stoddard v. Davidson, 513 A.2d 419, 421 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986). If there is no physical impact to the plaintiff, only then must the plaintiff further demonstrate that she was in the "zone of danger" or saw the traumatic physical impact of a family member. Sinn v. Burd, 404 A.2d 672 (Pa. 1979) (allowing an NIED recovery to plaintiffs outside the "zone of danger" if plaintiffs saw the physical impact upon a family member). If experienced, the physical impact need only be minor, so long as the alleged mental suffering is directly traceable to that impact. Potere v. City of Philadelphia, 112 A.2d 100, 104 (Pa. 1955). The emotional injury does not need to occur at the exact time of the physical impact, but rather, only must be directly traceable. See e.g., Potere, 112 A.2d at 104 (allowing recovery for mental anguish directly traceable to defendant's negligence); Stoddard v. Davidson, 513 A.2d 419 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986) (allowing NIED recovery when the plaintiff, after the physical jarring of running over a dead body left in the road by the defendant, realized that he had run over a corpse and was questioned by the police about the body).

Here, Plaintiffs incurred physical injury--they were directly involved in an accident, which they allege was caused by Defendant's negligence. The question, then, is whether mental suffering caused by the sight of Mr. Hartmoyer's dead body is directly traceable to the physical impact of the crash. Plaintiffs' allegations and expert report suggest that the PTSD resulted from the accident, beginning with the physical contact and continuing through the discovery of Mr. Hartmoyer's dead body. Without other intervention, Plaintiffs exited their vehicle after the physical impact and investigated the well-being of the other drivers involved in the accident. Such actions were substantially contemporaneous with and the forseeable result of a car accident, and would, then, be directly traceable to any negligence involved in causing of the accident.

The Court finds that Plaintiffs' observation of Mr. Hartmoyer's corpse directly resulted from the physical impact of the accident and will allow evidence regarding the emotional impact of seeing his corpse and as well as Dr. Beck's testimony that the sight contributed to Plaintiffs' PTSD.

2. Application of section 1722 of the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law

Defendant also alleges that Plaintiffs should be precluded from admitting evidence relating to medical costs and lost income because SAAQ has already compensated them for those losses. Defendant argues that Pennsylvania law applies to this issue, and that the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL") section 1722 precludes a plaintiff "from recovering the amount of benefits paid" by a "program, group contract, or other arrangement." 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 1719, 1722.

Plaintiffs, however, emphasize that Pennsylvania law should not apply because the anti-recovery provision of section 1722 is part of a legislative scheme that must be read in conjunction with section 1720 of the MVFRL, an anti-subrogation provision. Yet, section 1720 could not be applied to this case because SAAQ is an out-of-state insurer not subject to this Court's jurisdiction. Instead, Plaintiffs argue, Quebec law, which has jurisdiction over SAAQ, will allow SAAQ to subrogate recovery Plaintiffs receive in this action regardless of ...

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