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Frank Schmidt v. City Center Annex

November 28, 2011

FRANK SCHMIDT
AND KRISTEN DONATO
v.
CITY CENTER ANNEX



The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'neill, J.

MEMORANDUM

This personal injury lawsuit is scheduled to be tried on December 5, 2011. Presently before me are motions in limine filed by both parties.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Frank Schmidt, a UPS delivery driver, claims he suffered a back injury while attempting to deliver a package to the Marriott Courtyard Hotel located at 21 Juniper Street in Philadelphia. City Center Annex, the named defendant in this matter, is the "corporate name" for the Marriott Courtyard Hotel. See Def.'s Resp. to Pl.'s Mot. to Amend ¶ 1 (Mar. 18, 2011) (Doc. No. 19).

Plaintiffs*fn1 assert that on August 20, 2009, Schmidt backed his delivery truck into the loading dock at the Courtyard Marriott. The loading dock was in a raised position. Schmidt attempted to lower the loading dock by stepping onto it. When he stepped off the loading dock and onto his truck, however, the loading dock allegedly sprang up and struck him in the back.

ANALYSIS

Defendant moves to dismiss plaintiff's claim for punitive damages. It also moves to exclude testimony of worker's compensation payments received by plaintiff. Plaintiffs oppose the dismissal of the punitive damages claim but do not oppose the exclusion of evidence of the worker's compensation payments. See Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. at 5 (Aug. 22, 2011) (Doc. No. 38).

For their part, plaintiffs move to exclude the testimony of Jasen Walker, Ed.D., defendant's vocational expert. Defendant opposes this motion. I will discuss each motion in turn.

I. Defendant's Motion to Exclude Evidence of Worker's Compensation

Payments Received by Plaintiff I will grant as unopposed defendant's motion to exclude evidence of worker's compensation payments received by plaintiff.

II. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Punitive Damages Claim

Defendant argues that plaintiffs have not produced evidence demonstrating their entitlement to punitive damages. "Pennsylvania law provides that 'punitive damages are an 'extreme remedy' available only in the most exceptional circumstances.'" Tucker v. Bernzomatic, No. 09-5881, 2010 WL 1838704, at *2 (E.D. Pa. May 4, 2010), quoting Doe v. Wyoming Valley Health Care Sys., Inc., 987 A.2d 758, 768 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has . . . adopted the guidelines of Section 908(2) of the Restatement (Second) of Torts regarding the imposition of punitive damages: Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others. Punitive damages must be based on conduct which is 'malicious,' 'wanton,' 'reckless,' 'willful,' or 'oppressive' . . . . Salvio v. Amgen, Inc., No. 11-553, 2011 WL 3651314, at *10 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 18, 2011), citing Chambers v. Montgomery, 192 A.2d 355, 358 (Pa. 1963). "[W]hen assessing the propriety of the imposition of punitive damages, '[t]he state of mind of the actor is vital. The act, or the failure to act, must be intentional, reckless or malicious.'" Hutchinson ex rel. Hutchinson v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 770-71 (Pa. 2005), quoting Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 748 (Pa. 1984). "[P]unitive damages are not awarded for mere inadvertence, mistake, errors of judgment and the like, which constitute ordinary negligence." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 cmt. b.

Plaintiffs argue that defendant displayed reckless indifference to others' safety. The Restatement defines "reckless indifference" as follows: "[t]he actor's conduct is in reckless disregard of the safety of another if he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent." Moran for and on Behalf of Estate of Moran v. G. & W.H. Corson, Inc., 586 A.2d 416, 423 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1991), quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts ยง 500. Plaintiffs have produced evidence that defendant was aware that the loading dock leveler had been malfunctioning. They have also produced the testimony of Stanley Elliott, a loss prevention officer employed by defendant, who testified ...


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