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Courts are Reluctant to Dismiss a Case at the Pleadings Stage--Especially on “Negligent Failure to Market” Grounds (PA)

March 6, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">On February 24, 2020, Judge Kim R. Gibson of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied a defendant truck leasing company’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint because she determined that the plaintiff’s allegations gave sufficient notice of strict liability claims, and were not negligent failure to market claims, which are not recognized by Pennsylvania Law.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In <em><a href="">Shimmel v. Navistar International Corp.</a><a href=""></a>,</em> plaintiff John Paul Shimmel and his mother and duly appointed guardian (collectively, the “Shimmels”), brought a personal injury action against Navistar International Corporation, Rush Truck Leasing and Rush Truck Centers of Virginia, Inc. (collectively, “Rush”), alleging negligence and strict liability.  The case stems from a motor vehicle accident. A truck leased by Rush, and driven by co-defendant Wei Jang (“Jang”), was traveling on State Route 322 in Pennsylvania when Jang could not stop and swerved into the adjacent lane. John Paul Shimmel was on his motorcycle on the same Route 322 when Jang’s truck swerved into his lane. He “ditched” the motorcycle to avoid the collision, and as a result, he slid into a nearby guardrail and suffered severe injuries. The Shimmels claimed that the truck’s lack of warning equipment or automatic braking equipment evidenced a defective design. The Shimmels also claimed that Rush was strictly liable for failing to market the truck with a forward collision warning system.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Rush moved to dismiss the Shimmels' complaint, arguing that the defective design claims were actually negligent failure to market claims, which Pennsylvania law does not recognize except for pharmaceuticals. According to Rush, it has no duty to educate customers with respect to the product’s safety features, or to market their products with certain safety features. The court, however, disagreed.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The court reasoned that the Shimmels sufficiently plausibly pled a strict liability defective product claim against Rush because the complaint adequately pled that Rush was in the business of leasing vehicles like the truck, and a lessor is strictly liable for defects in products it leases. The Shimmels pled facts sufficient to give notice that the truck was defective. Although part of the Shimmels claim alluded to negligent failure to market, the claim alleged facts sufficient to plead strict liability.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The court’s denial of Rush’s motion in <em>Shimmel</em> reaffirms that courts are reluctant to dismiss a case at the pleadings stage.  If a plaintiff plausibly pleads the elements of a cause of action, the complaint will not be dismissed out of the box.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;"><span>Thanks to John Lang for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="">Mike Gauvin </a></span><span>with any questions.</span></p>

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