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Absentee Landlord and Absentee Defendant (PA)

August 25, 2016

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On July 27, 2016, a judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas <a href="http://blog.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/McCugh-v.-Carter.pdf">recently found against a landlord</a> in a premises liability case for $225,203.  The case arises out of an incident that occurred on December 22, 2014 when the plaintiff, Janet McHugh, was trying to take her trash out to the alley through the building’s unfinished basement.
When McHugh opened the basement door toward, it became caught on wires hanging from the basement’s ceiling.  The wires caught on the drywall and a 30-lb electrical box, tearing both off the wall.  The drywall fell on McHugh’s head and neck and the electrical box landed on her upper-body.
McHugh alleged that the landlord, Philip Carter Jr., was making the repairs himself and had allowed the dangerous conditions to exist.  To prove this, McHugh presented an engineering expert asserting numerous building code and safety regulation violations.  These included no drywall ceiling in the basement, exposed framing and wiring, drywall not being properly affixed, hanging wires, and inadequate anchoring.
The plaintiff complained of pain in her neck and weakness in her left arm and hand.  A subsequent CT scan and MRI confirmed disc instability and she was diagnosed with a cervical strain and sprain.  She underwent surgery on December 24, 2014 on some of her discs and then had physical therapy for two months thereafter.  McHugh also presented a medical expert who stated that her injuries were related to the accident and that she suffered a permanent injury.  The expert also stated that she will require lifelong epidural injections and that her discs are at risk of a breakdown.
Carter did not answer the complaint and a default judgment was entered against him.  The case proceeded to a bench trial on damages at which Carter represented himself pro se, presented no experts of his own, and simply maintained that McHugh sustained no injury in the incident.
This case emphasizes the simple fact of how necessary it is to actually present a defense.  When a defendant either does not have insurance or chooses not to cooperate with their defense, the end result can be a personal judgment, which can be nearly impossible to escape in the future.  Thanks to Peter Cardwell for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:BGibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.

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