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Rapchak v. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 10, 2015

BONNIE RAPCHAK, Executrix of the Estate of John E. Borzik, Deceased, and WANDA BORZIK, Plaintiffs,
v.
FREIGHTLINER CUSTOM CHASSIS CORPORATION, HALDEX BRAKE PRODUCTS CORPORATION, and SAF HOLLAND USA, INC., [1] Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

TERRENCE F. McVERRY, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF No. 94) filed by Defendant, Haldex Brake Products Corporation, with a brief in support (ECF No. 95) and a Concise Statement of Material Facts ("CSMF") (ECF No. 96). Plaintiff Wanda Borzik has filed a response to the motion (ECF No. 107) and a brief in opposition (ECF No. 108); Haldex has filed a reply brief (ECF No. 109). Accordingly, the motion is ripe for disposition.

I. Background

A. Factual Background[2]

This case arose out of the tragic death of John E. Borzik ("Decedent") while inspecting the undercarriage of his 2008 Tour Master recreational vehicle ("motorcoach") on September 11, 2011. That day, Decedent parked his motorcoach in the driveway of the home that he shared with his mother, Wanda Borzik, to perform maintenance work on the vehicle. To do so, Decedent placed himself underneath the motorcoach by lying supine on his back near the right side of the rear axle on a creeper.

Sometime before noon on that day, Ms. Borzik left the home with a friend to attend a car show in another part of town. As they departed, Ms. Borzik's friend spoke with Decedent, who was still beneath the motorcoach performing maintenance and/or cleaning its undercarriage. At some point thereafter, the motorcoach descended onto Decedent, trapped him, compressed his chest and caused him to asphyxiate over a period of time, which eventually resulted in his death.[3]

Later that afternoon, Ms. Borzik returned home from the car show, observed Decedent's legs extended out from beneath the motorcoach, and asked him "are you still there?" There was no response from Decedent. Ms. Borzik then entered her home and walked onto the back porch, where she phoned her daughter, Bonnie Rapchack, the now-Executrix of Decedent's estate.

Ms. Borzik later received a call from Sherri Whipkey, Decedent's ex-wife, who was attempting to return his telephone call from earlier that day. Ms. Borzik took the phone outside where she found that the motorcoach had descended onto Decedent's forehead and chest, trapping him underneath. At this point, Ms. Borzik presumed that her son was dead. Ms. Borzik nevertheless attempted to extract Decedent from beneath the motorhome by placing her hand underneath the Decedent's forehead and on his chest, but she was unable to do so. Ms. Borzik then attempted to raise his arm, finding that rigor mortis had already set in. Afterward, Ms. Borzik returned back inside and to her call to Ms. Whipkey followed by 9-1-1.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs initiated this action on September 6, 2013 by filing a five-count Complaint in which they allege various product liability claims at Counts One - Four and a negligent infliction of emotional distress ("NIED") claim at Count Five. Plaintiffs seek damages pursuant to the Pennsylvania Survival Action, 42 P.S. § 8302 and the Wrongful Death Act, 42 P.S. § 8301 and also claim that they are entitled to an award of punitive damages under the circumstances.

On April 24, 2015, Haldex filed the instant motion in which it requests that the Court enter summary judgment in its favor as to the NIED claim of Ms. Borzik. Plaintiffs oppose the motion, which the Court will now address.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment must be granted when "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The movant must identify those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material fact is one "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Factual disputes that are irrelevant or unnecessary will not be counted." Id.

To withstand a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must show a genuine dispute of material fact for trial by citing to particular parts of material in the record. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322 ("[T]he plain language of Rule 56 mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."). A dispute about a material fact is "genuine" only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 247-248. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 ("When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56[], its opponent must do more than simply show that there ...


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