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Beware of Plaintiffs Who “Trip Up” on their Cases (PA)

February 12, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Katie-Synder-v.-Ava-Hunt-et-al..pdf">Katie Synder v. Ava Hunt et al.</a>,</em> the Pennsylvania Superior Court analyzed compulsory nonsuit in a premises liability case.  The basis of the lawsuit is Plaintiff Snyder was walking across the shared driveway of eight defendants on the 6100 blocks of Castor Avenue and 1400 blocks of Benner and Lardner Street in Philadelphia. Plaintiff claimed that she tripped and fell in a hole behind a large crack while walking on the driveway and filed a negligence action against multiple defendants. Plaintiff claimed defendants failed to uphold their duty to maintain the driveway and were the direct cause of her injuries. Plaintiff also filed suit against the City of Philadelphia. All defendants subsequently filed cross-claims for indemnification and contribution against one another.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At trial, plaintiff presented a land surveyor as an expert witness. In preparation for trial, he surveyed the driveway and inspected the deeds for the surrounding properties. He testified as to the location where plaintiff fell and stated that all of defendants’ properties “have the common use and right to use that driveway”. During cross-examination, the expert was forced to admit that he did not bring all of the deeds with him and he could not testify as to the specifics of the deeds other than for one property. Following the case-in-chief, counsel for all defendants filed for nonsuit, which was granted, and the parties stipulated to dismiss the City of Philadelphia from the case. Plaintiff filed a motion to remove nonsuit, which was subsequently denied. Plaintiff appealed and filed a concise statement of errors, to which the trial court concluded that nonsuit was appropriate. Plaintiff failed to provide evidence as to liability for some defendants and a relationship to the actual matter for others. Plaintiff appealed to the Superior Court.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">For compulsory nonsuit to be proper, it must be apparent that plaintiff does not have a claim. Favorable evidence and related inferences as to the plaintiff are considered and any conflicts are resolved in plaintiff’s favor. In order for a motion to remove nonsuit to be appealed, there must be a final judgment. In this case, while there was a denial of plaintiff’s motion for nonsuit, there was not a final judgment as none of the parties moved for entry of judgment. The Court decided that plaintiff’s appeal must be quashed, as it was premature in the face of the lack of judgment and also due to the cross-claims between the defendants that were still open.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defense was apparently organized and prepared for cross examination of plaintiff's expert, which resulted in a favorable outcome for most defendants.  Seasoned litigators will press for a favorable outcome at all times and defeat inexperience.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Gabrielle Outlaw for her contribution to this post.  For questions or comments, please contact <a href="mailto:vterrasi@wcmlaw.com">Vincent Terrasi</a>.</p>

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