JESSICA L. JONES Appellant
MARIE H. PLUMER, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES J. STOVER
from the Order Entered, May 8, 2019, in the Court of Common
Pleas of Venango County, Civil Division at No(s): 2018-00015.
BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., KUNSELMAN, J., and PELLEGRINI, J.
Jones, appeals from the order granting summary judgment to
Marie H. Plumer (the administratrix of the Estate of James J.
Stover). Ms. Jones initiated this action, because she fell
down the stairs at a property she leased from Mr. Stover and
injured her wrist. Based on the Dead Man's Act, the trial
court properly held that Ms. Jones could not testify against
her now-deceased landlord's estate. In addition, the
administratrix did not waive the Act's protections, nor
has Ms. Jones produced any competent evidence to prove what
caused her to fall. We therefore affirm.
Jones was a tenant at Mr. Stover's property. She claims
she tripped on the premise's poorly maintained steps,
which led down from a porch on the side of the building. The
steps had no railing, and when Ms. Jones was about to walk
down the steps, she alleges that "the heel of her shoe
caught the top of the riser [which] improperly projected
beyond the top-step nosing." Complaint at 2. Extending
her arm to break her fall, Ms. Jones struck her hand on the
concrete below and broke several bones. Surgery was needed to
repair the fractures.
landlord died about a year later, before Ms. Jones filed her
lawsuit, so she sued the administratrix of Mr. Stover's
estate to recover for her injuries. In her Complaint, Ms.
Jones alleged that Mr. Stover knew his front steps were
unsafe but neglected to repair them in a reasonable and
timely manner. The administratrix eventually moved for
purposes of that motion, the parties agreed that the
property's steps were poorly maintained, that Mr. Stover
knew of the defects, and that he failed to make the requisite
repairs. Thus, whether Ms. Jones had produced enough evidence
to give rise to factual questions on the issues of duty and
breach was not in dispute for purposes of summary judgment.
the administratrix attacked Ms. Jones' lack of evidence
of causation. She claimed that the only witness to the fall -
i.e., Ms. Jones - was incompetent to testify
regarding causation under the Dead Man's Act and this
left Ms. Jones unable to prove that the negligently
maintained stairs caused her to fall. The trial court agreed
and granted summary judgment. This timely appeal followed.
Ms. Jones presents one issue for our review:
Whether the lower court erred when it granted [the
administratrix's] Motion for Summary Judgment, applying
the Dead Man's Act to bar the testimony of [Ms. Jones],
and finding that there were no other means through which [Ms.
Jones] might establish the element of causation, in a
premises liability claim?
Jones' Brief at 5. Ms. Jones then argues that issue as
three sub-issues in her brief, which we have reordered for
ease of disposition:
1. The trial court committed reversible error when it broadly
applied the Dead Man's Act to entirely bar the testimony
of [Ms. Jones'], including testimony as to causation.
2. The trial court committed reversible error when it found
that [the administratrix] had not waived the protections of
the Dead Man's Act, and that thus the Dead Man's Act
barred [Ms. Jones] from testifying (rendering her unable to
prove the element of causation).
3. The trial court committed reversible error when it found
that the statements of [Ms. Jones'] medical providers
were insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find for
[Ms. Jones] on the issue of causation.
Jones' Brief at 11, 19, 23.
reviewing a trial court's order granting summary
judgment, which awards a party judgment as a matter of law,
our scope of review is plenary, and our standard of review is
de novo. See Summers v. Certainteed Corp.,
997 A.2d 1152 (Pa. 2010).
the trial court concluded that Ms. Jones' evidence at the
close of discovery was legally insufficient to make a
prima facie case of negligence against her late
landlord. The "elements of negligence are: a duty to
conform to a certain standard for the protection of others
against unreasonable risks; the defendant's failure to
conform to that standard; a causal connection between the
conduct and the resulting injury; and actual loss or damage
to the plaintiff." Brewing for Brewing v. City of
Philadelphia, 199 A.3d 348, 355 (Pa. 2018).
court found the Dead Man's Act prohibited Ms. Jones from
testifying about the cause of her fall. The Dead Man's
Act provides, in relevant part, "where any party to a
thing . . . is dead . . . and his right thereto or therein
has passed . . . to a party . . . who represents his interest
. . . any surviving or remaining party to such thing . . .
shall [not] be a competent witness to any matter occurring
before the death of said party." 42 Pa.C.S.A. §
5930. Under this Act, "surviving parties who have an
interest which is adverse to [the] decedent's estate are
disqualified from testifying as to any transaction or event
which occurred before [the] decedent's death."
Hera v. McCormick, 625 A.2d 682, 688 (Pa. Super.
Applicability of Dead Man's Act to Ms. Jones'
Jones claims that the trial court should not have deemed her
an incompetent witness under the Dead Man's Act. She
argues her case does not satisfy the legislative intent for
the Act and "that the purpose of the Act must be kept in
the forefront of a court's mind as that determines its
applicability to a particular case." Ms. Jones'
Brief at 12. Because there were no witnesses to her fall, Ms.
Jones argues that Mr. Stover would not have been able to
testify as to causation, if he were still alive. Thus, in her
view, Mr. Stover's death did not weaken ...