United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
PATTY C. WILSON, individually and as administrator of the Estate of Jerry Wilson, deceased, Plaintiff,
MOORE FREIGHTSERVICE, INC., et al., Defendants.
MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.
This case concerns the unfortunate death of a man due to heart failure at the scene of a fire. Before the court is Plaintiff Patty C. Wilson's Motion for Reconsideration (ECF No. 116) of this Court's Order (ECF No. 113) granting Defendants TA Operating LLC and Treston W. Harris' Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 96). The Court retains jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Venue was transferred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404 and § 1406.
The matter has been briefed by the Parties, the Court held oral argument, and the matter is ripe for disposition. Because it is not "undeniably clear" that Wilson's harm was unforeseeable when defined at a general level of abstraction as "physical injury including death, " and, therefore, the scope of the Defendants' duty did encompass Wilson's harm, the Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration is granted.
The material facts for the purposes of this motion are not in dispute, and are as follows. On October 17, 2011, Defendant Moore Freight services contracted with Jerry Wilson ("Wilson"), husband of Plaintiff Patty C. Wilson, to haul glass using a Moore Freight trailer. Shortly after 3:00 p.m. that day, Wilson, traveling along Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, perceived a problem with the left front trailer brake after a trailer tire blew. See Pl.'s Ans. Statement Facts ¶ 4, Jun. 25, 2014, ECF No. 100 [hereinafter Pl.'s SOF]. After glancing in the rear view mirror, Wilson saw smoke emanating from a fire on the left front part of the trailer near the break. Wilson stopped the vehicle, exited, and utilized the vehicle's fire extinguisher to douse the fire emerging from the brake.
He brought the truck to a repair garage approximately two miles from the scene of the incident: the Defendant TA Operating LLC, in Lamar, Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Wilson arrived at the garage at 3:42 p.m., and gave the truck to the mechanics for repair. Pl.'s SOF, ¶ 4. While waiting, Wilson purchased a fire extinguisher to replace the empty one he used on the fire. Several employees of Defendant TA Operating, including Defendant Treston W. Harris, completed the repairs and represented that the trailer was safe to use. Wilson paid for the repairs at 5:51 p.m. Id . Based on the Defendants' representations that the vehicle was safe, Wilson got back into the trailer and pulled the vehicle back onto Interstate 80 to continue his journey.
After driving a short distance, the left front trailer brake caught fire again. According to the police report, Wilson exited the vehicle and attempted to put out the fire with the new fire extinguisher. When this failed to quench the flames, he returned to the vehicle, secured a gallon of water, and again attempted to extinguish the fire. As Wilson tried to douse the fire, he perished from a heart affliction that the Plaintiff avers was ventricular dysrhythmia. Wilson died at 6:53 p.m. See id.
In the wake of this devastating event, Wilson's estate filed an action against the Defendants. The Defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging that, while Wilson's death was tragic, the Defendants had no duty to prevent this unforeseeable harm. The Court, after considering the briefs of the Parties, granted the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court found that Wilson's death by heart malfunction was an unforeseeable result of the Defendants' alleged failure to repair the truck, such that the particular harm was beyond the scope of Defendants' duty.
Plaintiff's counsel filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration alleging that the Court made an error of law because it is not "undeniably clear" that the Defendants did not owe a duty to Wilson, and that newly discovered evidence supports a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.
A. Motion for Reconsideration Standard
"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985). A court should grant a motion for reconsideration if the party seeking reconsideration shows: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999).
"The standard for granting a motion for reconsideration is a stringent one.... [A] mere disagreement with the court does not translate into a clear error of law." Mpala v. Smith, CIV. 3:CV-06-841, 2007 WL 136750, *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 16, 2007) (Kosik, J.) aff'd, 241 F.Appx. 3 (3d Cir. 2007). "Because federal courts have a strong interest in the finality of judgments, motions for reconsideration should be granted sparingly." Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Diversified Indus., Inc., 884 F.Supp. 937, 943 (E.D. Pa. 1995).
Nevertheless, this Motion for Reconsideration provided the Court with the opportunity to ruminate more deeply on these issues and, with the benefit of its own thorough research, refine its thinking to a more precise conclusion and correct its prior misapprehension. Despite the handicap of one-sided advocacy, the Court spent a considerable amount of time and effort endeavoring to achieve the right result. While the Court undoubtedly has interests in efficiency and finality, our highest duty is to justice. Precise articulation of the law and its proper application to cases are vital components of our system, and that is what the Court endeavors to provide in this case.
Moreover, the Parties indicated at oral argument that they will most likely pursue an interlocutory appeal of these difficult legal issues. The Court concurs that the issues are worthy of consideration, and certifies the accompanying Order as such. Therefore, the Court aims to provide a thorough discussion of the issues to ease the burden of the appellate court in an effort to achieve the just result.
B. Defendants Owed a Duty to Wilson
To state a claim for negligence in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff must establish: (1) a duty owed by a defendant; (2) a defendant's breach of that duty; (3) actual damages; and, (4) a causal connection between the breach and those damages. See, e.g., R.W. v. Manzek, 888 A.2d 740, 746 (Pa. 2005). "The primary element in any negligence cause of action is that the defendant owes a duty of care to the plaintiff." Althaus ex rel. Althus v. Cohen, 756 A.2d 1166, 1169 (Pa. 2000). There can be no negligence claim when there is no duty of care established, even if a defendant's actions were careless, reckless, or inadvertent. Zanine v. ...