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Failure To Establish The Standard Of Care In A Pennsylvania Negligence Action Leads To Entry Of Non-Suit

June 16, 2023

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In Pennsylvania, expert testimony as to the standard of care and deviation therefrom is most commonly seen (and required) in professional liability cases. However, such evidence can be required in ordinary negligence actions involving subjects that require knowledge, information, or skill beyond what is possessed by the ordinary juror.

In <em>Green v. Palfrey</em>, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed this issue in a case where a truck driver sustained a shoulder injury while attempting to fill his tanker trailer at the G Street Terminal in Philadelphia. The injury occurred while plaintiff was attempting to lift a heavy fill arm. Plaintiff sued the owner and operator of the terminal, alleging that they negligently operated and maintained the terminal and knew or should have known of the defective condition of the terminal equipment. Prior to the start of trial, defendants moved for compulsory non-suit due to Plaintiff’s failure to prove the applicable standard of care and deviation therefrom. The trial court granted the application.

On appeal, plaintiff argued that he was not required to present expert testimony to establish the standard of care and deviation because (1) he raised only an ordinary negligence claim, and (2) the issue as to whether the fill arm was too heavy could easily be understood by the average juror.  However, the Court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the proper maintenance, design, and inspection of a fuel fill arm is not within the ordinary knowledge or experience of the average lay person. The Court added that without expert testimony as to the complicated equipment, the jury would be left to speculate as to as defendants’ liability. Accordingly, the Court held that there could be no “fair and reasonable disagreement” about whether plaintiff established the standard of care and defendants’ deviation therefrom.

The <em>Green</em> decision serves as a reminder that a plaintiff may be required to produce expert testimony in an ordinary negligence case where the liability issues are complex and require specialized knowledge or skill for a jury to resolve. The failure to provide such evidence can result in the dismissal of the case.

Thank you to Gianna Hroncich for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="agibbs@wcmlaw.com">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.

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