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Jury Must Decide Whether Release Obtained by Fraud (PA)

December 9, 2016

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<p style="text-align: justify;">A Pennsylvania court recently dealt with whether claims of a language barrier were sufficient to raise issues of fact as to whether a release was obtained by fraud.  In <a href="http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Superior/out/J-S53018-16o%20-%2010289193914444386.pdf?cb=1"><em>Del Pielago v. Orwig</em></a>, the defendant failed to stop at a stop sign and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. As a result of the collision, the plaintiff was injured and underwent surgery for a rotator cuff tear, and trauma induced carpal tunnel to his left wrist, among other injuries. Prior to filing suit, however, plaintiff signed a pre-litigation release, in exchange for payment of $2,857.92.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The action was dismissed, and on appeal plaintiff argued that the release should be set aside based on fraud, alleging that twelve days after the accident, an adjuster from Progressive Insurance Company showed up at plaintiff’s home without an interpreter, knowing that plaintiff did not speak or read English. The adjuster presented a check for $2,857.92 and the release, which he scrolled through on an iPad.  Plaintiff claims she signed the release, believed that the payment only covered lost wages.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In granting summary judgment based on the signed release, the trial court relied on the fact that plaintiff’s daughter, who speaks and reads English, was present. On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior court reversed the trial court’s award of summary judgment, finding that it was clearly an issue for the jury to decide whether the release had been procured by fraud, based on plaintiff's claims that the adjuster rushed her into signing a release he knew she was unable to understand.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Alexandra Perry for her contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Mike Bono </a>for more information.</p>

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