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National Specialty Insurance Company v. Tunkhannock Auto Mart, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 16, 2018




         Presently before this Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Tunkhannock Auto Mart, Inc. (“TAM”). (Doc. 52). While Plaintiffs' contribution claim does not rise and fall on the liability assessment of Jesse Prebola, the original plaintiff, TAM is not a joint tortfeasor liable for contribution because TAM did not owe a duty of care to drivers on State Route 29. For this reason, TAM's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. The Accident

         On October 27, 2010, Thomas W. Punko (“Punko”), a non-party, was driving a tractor trailer on State Route 29 in Eaton Township, Pennsylvania. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts (“DSMF”), at ¶¶ 1, 3.) Punko was making a delivery to Defendant TAM on behalf of Plaintiffs JWB Logistics Corp. and TMD Logistics Corp. (DSMF, at ¶ 5.) Pursuant to delivery instructions provided to Punko by TAM, Punko was to “pull into the Tunkhannock lot [tractor first], turn around in the rear of the building, and pull out of the parking lot in a forward facing position after making [the] delivery.” (DSMF, at ¶ 9; Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts (“PSMF”), at ¶ 9.) As he had on prior occasions, Punko ignored these instructions. Instead, Punko decided to back into the lot. (DSMF, at ¶ 13.) To do so, Punko positioned the tractor in the center turning lane of State Route 29 facing south and positioned the trailer across the northbound travel lane facing the lot entrance. (DSMF, at ¶¶ 17-18.) In other words, to back up into TAM's parking lot Punko was required to block the entire northbound lane of State Route 29. (Id.)

         Punko noticed headlights approaching his position as he began to back the trailer into the parking lot. (DSMF, at ¶ 19.) Assuming the driver of the car would notice the stopped truck, Punko stopped moving. (DSMF, at ¶ 20.) Unfortunately, the car did not stop and the driver, Jesse Prebola, was seriously injured. Notably, the collision occurred entirely on the northbound travel lane of State Route 29. (DSMF, at ¶ 22.)

         As a result of this collision, Deborah Prebola, as guardian of Jesse Prebola, filed a civil suit in Luzerne County (“Prebola Action”) against a number of entities including the instant parties.

         B. Settlement

         On April 16, 2013, the parties in the Prebola Action participated in a mediation which led to the full and final settlement of Prebola's claims. (DSMF, at ¶ 31.) At the mediation, Plaintiffs National Specialty Insurance Company and Gemini Insurance Company, on behalf of their insureds-JWB, TMD, and TB Choya-paid the entire settlement amount accepted by Prebola. (PSMF, ¶ 34, Ex. I.) TAM did not contribute to the settlement amount. (Id.) In part, this was because Prebola did not believe that it had a viable claim against Tunkhannock: “there does not appear to be any evidence that the employees of Tunkhannock Auto Mart contributed in any way to the happening of this collision.” (DSMF, at ¶ 32.) Notably, no settlement demand was ever made against TAM. (DSMF, at ¶ 33.)

         On May 17, 2013, Prebola signed a Settlement and Release Agreement under which Prebola received a settlement payment of $6, 900, 000.00 in exchange for releasing all claims against all parties arising out of the accident. (PSMF, at ¶ 34, Ex. I.) While Prebola signed a general release, it is important to note that Tunkhannock never requested inclusion on any release. (DSMF, at ¶ 35.) At this time, Prebola repeated that Tunkhannock was “not contributing toward settlement” because there was “not a reasonable claim against Tunkhannock” as “they had given proper instructions to all of the drivers as to how they should access the premises, and those instructions were, in fact, ignored.” (DSMF, at ¶ 36.)

         On June 7, 2013, Prebola executed an Addendum to the Settlement and Release Agreement. The Addendum states in part: “At the time of the Mediation it was fully contemplated by all parties and counsel in attendance that, while the claims of Plaintiffs were being settled, the rights of the settling Defendants as against the non-settling Defendant [TAM] for contribution and or indemnification were being preserved.” (PSMF, at ¶ 34, Ex. J.)

         C. Procedural History

         On February 16, 2016 Plaintiffs filed a Complaint against TAM for contribution to the settlement detailed above. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint on March 3, 2017. (Doc. 24.) TAM moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, but that Motion was denied. (Doc. 34.)

         Following TAM's failure to have this action dismissed, it filed a Third-Party Complaint against all other non-contributing defendants in the Prebola Action. (D ...

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