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Goldstein v. United Lift Service Co.

October 22, 2010

LARRY GOLDSTEIN; MELISSA GOLDSTEIN, PLAINTIFFS
v.
UNITED LIFT SERVICE COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

This case arises out of the malfunctioning of a "curved rail stair lift" that plaintiffs, Larry Goldstein and Melissa Goldstein, purchased from defendant United Lift Service Company, Inc. ("United Lift"). In the Complaint, plaintiffs assert the following claims against defendant: breach of contract (Count I); false imprisonment (Count II); breach of the Implied Warranty of Merchantability and breach of the Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose (Count III); and violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") (Count IV). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The Complaint was properly served on defendant on September 29, 2009. Defendant failed to respond to the Complaint as required by law. Accordingly, a default was entered by the Clerk pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) on March 4, 2010.

The matter was presented to the Court on Motion for Default Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2), and on March 31, 2010 the Court conducted a hearing to determine damages. Notwithstanding notice to defendant, defendant did not appear at the hearing. At the hearing, plaintiffs Larry Goldstein and Melissa Goldstein both testified and presented testimony from Audrey Welsh, a licensed practical nurse who provided care to Melissa Goldstein at times relevant to this action. Plaintiffs also submitted nine exhibits at the hearing in support of their Motion for Default Judgment. (Exs. P-1 to P-8, P-10.) Following the hearing, plaintiffs submitted proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law.

For the reasons set forth in the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the Court finds that (1) United Lift breached its maintenance agreement with plaintiffs, (2) United Lift violated the UTPCPL by committing the unlawful practices described in §§ 201-2(4)(xiv) and (xvi) of the statute, and (3) plaintiffs are entitled to recover an award of consequential damages in the amount of $40,299.

II. Findings of Fact

A. Background

Plaintiffs purchased a Bison "Contour Elite" curved rail stair lift (the "chair lift") from defendant United Lift in December 2003. (Hr'g Tr. at 6.) Final acceptance, turnover, and installation of the chair lift was made on December 29, 2003. (Ex. P-1.) Included with the purchase of the chair lift was an extended maintenance agreement effective for one year from the date of installation. (Id.) By letter dated February 2, 2004, United Lift enclosed information describing and advertising its "Maintenance Program Agreement and a "Warranty Statement" describing, inter alia, the labor warranty included with plaintiffs' purchase of the chair lift. (Exs. P-2 to P-4.) Plaintiffs made annual payments to United Lift extending the maintenance agreement on a yearly basis, and on January 16, 2007, plaintiffs received confirmation of their extension of the maintenance program agreement through December 28, 2007. (Exs. P-5 to P-7; Hr'g Tr. at 6-7, 9.)

The chair lift began malfunctioning on September 19, 2007. (Hr'g Tr. at 9.) Plaintiffs made an emergency call to United Lift on that date but did not hear from United Lift until September 21, 2007. (Id. at 11-12.) On September 22, 2007, after determining that the chair lift's "charging shoe" had malfunctioned, a United Lift technician temporarily repaired the chair lift by wedging an old sneaker belonging to Larry Goldstein into the unit. (Id. at 12-14.) The chair lift again malfunctioned and became completely inoperable on September 25, 2007. (Id. at 14.) Plaintiffs then called United Lift, but were unable to reach the company until October 2, 2007, when they were notified that United Lift had not yet ordered a new charging shoe, but would do so that day. (Id.) A United Lift technician installed the new charging shoe on October 6, 2007 and advised plaintiffs that the battery would automatically charge for six to seven hours before the chair lift would be operable. (Id. at 15.) On October 7, 2007, after the battery was charged, plaintiffs tested the chair lift and discovered that it was inoperable, and again contacted United Lift. (Id.) United Lift tried but failed again to repair the chair lift on October 13 and 18, 2007. (Id. at 15-16.)

Plaintiffs called the company's vice president, Pat McDaniels, on October 23 and 24, 2007, but were unable to reach her or leave a message in her voicemail box, which was full. (Id. at 16-17.) Plaintiffs also sent an email to United Lift's general sales address on that date, which was returned to sender. (Id.) Unable to reach United Lift on their own, plaintiffs sought the assistance of a local television news station, which was able to reach United Lift immediately. (Id. at 19.) United Lift informed plaintiffs that it needed to obtain a new part for the chair lift, that it did not know how long it would take to obtain the part, and that United Lift would not be able to make any guarantee that the new part would actually fix the chair lift. (Id.)

Having received no evidence or assurance from United Lift that it would be able to repair the chair lift, plaintiffs unsuccessfully sought the services of other Bison chair lift distributors, who refused to repair the chair lift and informed plaintiffs that only the distributor from whom they purchased the chair lift----United Lift----would be able to make the necessary repairs. (Id. at 18-19.) Left without a functioning chair lift and faced with uncertainty regarding whether United Lift would ever repair the chair lift, plaintiffs purchased a new chair lift from Mobility Express on October 24, 2007, at a cost of $15,299. (Id. at 20; Ex. P-8.) Because of the time required to fabricate the new chair lift, it was not installed until December 2, 2007. (Hr'g Tr. at 21, 50.)

B. Effects on Plaintiff Melissa Goldstein

Plaintiffs' home is a two-story home with a powder room on the first floor and bathing facilities and bedrooms limited to the second floor. (Hr'g Tr. at 4, 11.) Larry Goldstein originally purchased the chair lift to accommodate his wife during her recovery from a severe leg injury. (Id. at 4.) Larry Goldstein's daughter, Melissa Goldstein----who was age 40 at the time of the March 31, 2010 hearing----was 18 years of age when she was diagnosed with lupus. (Id. at 26-27.) By 2006, Melissa Goldstein had moved in with her parents due to the worsening of her symptoms and she became the primary user of the chair lift. (Id. at 26-27, 39.) The chair lift was Melissa Goldstein's sole means of ascending and descending the stairs and thus for leaving the house. (Id. at 10-11, 22.)

After the chair lift stopped functioning on September 25, 2007, and before the new Mobility Express chair lift was installed on December 2, 2007, Melissa Goldstein was unable to move between the first and second floors without the assistance of trained emergency medical technicians ("EMTs"). (Id. at 22-23.) In the six and a half months prior to September 25, 2007, Melissa Goldstein was under the care of nine physicians, underwent regular and periodic medical testing, and averaged four doctor visits per month. (Id. at 28-29.) However, after the chair lift stopped functioning on September 25, 2007, Melissa Goldstein was unable to leave the second floor of her home and averaged only two physician visits per month, missing many scheduled medical tests and doctor appointments----including appointments with her rheumatologist, gastroenterologist, and pain specialist. (Id. at 28-30.) As a result of these cancelled appointments, Melissa Goldstein experienced increased pain. (Id. at 30.) When a medical appointment was necessary and could not be postponed, plaintiffs would call 9-1-1, which would dispatch EMTs to carry Melissa Goldstein down to the first floor. (Id. at 23.) Plaintiffs utilized EMT services sparingly, and other than the few times she left the house for doctor visits, Melissa Goldstein did not leave the second floor between September 25, 2007 and December 2, 2007. (Id. at 33-34.)

Melissa Goldstein suffered from "deep depression" because of her inability to descend the stairs on her own. (Id. at 41.) Having to call emergency services every time she needed to leave the house was embarrassing and reinforced her feeling of being disabled. (Id. at 36.) She was unable to participate in Thanksgiving dinner with her family that year and was unable to participate in activities she normally ...


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