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Varner-Mort v. Kapfhammer

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

January 21, 2015

DONNA VARNER-MORT AND DANIEL MORT, H/W, Appellants
v.
BRIDGET KAPFHAMMER, Appellee

Argued: October 22, 2014.

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Blair County, Civil Division, No(s): 2011 GN 2170. Before MILLIRON, J.

William J. Coppol, Plymouth Meeting, for appellants.

James F. Andrews, Jr., Wexford, for appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., ALLEN and STRASSBURGER,[*] JJ. OPINION BY STRASSBURGER, J. Judge Allen joins the opinion. P.J.E. Ford Elliott files a concurring statement.

OPINION

Page 245

STRASSBURGER, J.:

Donna Varner-Mort (Varner-Mort) and Daniel Mort (Mort) (collectively Appellants) appeal from an order granting the motion for summary judgment filed by Bridget Kapfhammer (Kapfhammer). We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

The relevant background underlying this matter can be summarized as follows. Varner-Mort and Kapfhammer were in an automobile accident on May 6, 2009. On June 27, 2011, Appellants filed a complaint against Kapfhammer. Varner-Mort presented a count of negligence against Kapfhammer, and Mort, Vander-Mort's husband, presented a count of loss of consortium against Kapfhammer.

It is undisputed that, because Appellants chose the limited tort option when they purchased automobile insurance, pursuant to the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL),[1] Varner-Mort could recover non-economic damages only if she proved that she suffered a " serious injury." 75 Pa.C.S. § 1705(a)(1)(A). The MVFRL defines " serious injury" as " [a] personal injury resulting in death, serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement." 75 Pa.C.S. § 1702.

Kapfhammer filed an answer and new matter. In her new matter, Kapfhammer averred, inter alia, that the statute of limitations barred Appellants' cause of action.[2]

Kapfhammer eventually filed a motion for summary judgment wherein she raised her statute-of-limitations defense. In that motion, Kapfhammer maintained that, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524(2), Appellants' causes of action are governed by a two-year statute of limitations. According to Kapfhammer, Varner-Mort's medical records indicate that, on May 9, 2009, Varner-Mort sought treatment at Lewistown Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a back sprain with paresthesia of a lower extremity. Kapfhammer averred that Varner-Mort continued to have treatment on her lower back over the years but that the injury remained the same from the time of the accident through 2011. Kapfhammer took the position that the statute of limitations required Appellants to file their complaint by May 6, 2011, i.e., two years after the accident occurred. Because Appellants did not file their complaint until June 27, 2011, Kapfhammer contended that the trial court should grant her motion for summary judgment and dismiss Appellants' complaint with prejudice.

In Appellants' response to the motion for summary judgment, relying on this Court's opinion in Walls v. Scheckler, 700 A.2d 532 (Pa. Super. 1997), Appellants argued that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Varner-Mort became

Page 246

aware that she suffered a " serious injury." Appellants highlighted the facts that Varner-Mort did not have an MRI until August 13, 2009 and that she did not discuss the results of that test with a doctor until later that day. Appellants contended that a genuine issue of material fact remained as to when Varner-Mort discovered that she suffered a " serious injury" and, therefore, that the trial court should deny the motion for summary judgment and allow a fact-finder to hear the case.

The trial court granted the motion for summary judgment. In so doing, the court reasoned, in relevant part, as follows.

... [] Varner-Mort was reasonably put on notice that she suffered a serious injury prior to the first MRI on August 13, 2009. She knew that she was injured the day of the accident as she experienced pain and swelling about an hour after the accident. She went to the emergency room initially on May 8, 2009 and returned May 9, 2009 where she complained and sought treatment for pain and numbness that radiated down her legs to her toes in the L4-5 distribution. As her symptoms for these same injuries failed to improve with the prescribed treatment, [] Varner-Mort was reasonably put on notice that she had suffered a serious injury as a result of the motor vehicle accident.
Corrective surgery to mitigate [] Varner-Mort's pain will not extend the date of the beginning of the statutory period. The discovery rule is not designed to allow plaintiffs to indefinitely extend filing and set aside a reasonable person's common sense. The [c]ourt finds that [] Varner-Mort had the requisite notice of a serious injury on May 9, 2009; accordingly, [Appellants'] claims are barred as this ...

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