STEIGERWALT v. POHL
MEMORANDUM. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL ON 10/2/17. 10/2/17 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(er, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BRIDGET L. STEIGERWALT
: CIVIL ACTION
In her Own Right and as Administratrix :
of the Estate of Dean D. Steigerwalt
: NO. 17-2241
October 2, 2017
Plaintiff brought this diversity action in her own right and as administratrix of the
estate of her husband for injuries suffered when the motorcycle on which she was a
passenger and which her husband was operating was involved in a collision with a
minivan driven by the defendant. Presently before the Court is the defendant’s motion
to dismiss plaintiffs’ allegations of recklessness and claims for punitive damages. For
the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.
The relevant allegations are as follows:
4. On September 11, 2016, at approximately 2:30
P.M., Mrs. Pohl was operating a 2008 Toyota Sienna
minivan (hereinafter "the minivan") in a southbound lane of
travel of Pennsylvania Route 61 (hereinafter "Route 61”) in
the vicinity of Interstate 78 (hereinafter "I-78”) in Tilden
Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania.
5. On the aforesaid date and time, Mr. Steigerwalt
was operating a 2013 Harley Davidson motorcycle
(hereinafter "the motorcycle") in a northbound lane of travel
of Route 61 in the vicinity of I-78.
6. After passing the entrance to a ramp which would
put vehicles onto I-78 going eastbound, Mrs. Pohl
intentionally caused the minivan to turn left, cross over a
raised concrete separator, and cross the northbound lanes
of travel of Route 61 in order to enter another ramp which
would take vehicles onto I-78 going eastbound.
7. As a result of this aforementioned extremely
reckless and dangerous maneuver by Mrs. Pohl, the
motorcycle collided into the minivan (hereinafter “the
8. Ms. Pohl was negligent, careless, reckless, and
recklessly indifferent to the health and safety of other drivers
in the following respects:
a. For causing the collision;
b. For making a left turn with her minivan in a
location that obviously forbids the making of
such a maneuver;
c. For failing to take into consideration the
dangerousness of the maneuver she was
d. For failing to properly and adequately look
out for other vehicles before she made the
9. At the time of the collision, Mrs. Steigerwalt was a
passenger on the motorcycle.
[ECF 1, ¶¶ 6-9.]
Defendant asks the Court to strike all allegations of recklessness included in
plaintiff’s Complaint. In doing so, defendant seeks to prevent plaintiff from
pursuing punitive damages. In support of this argument, defendant argues that the
plaintiff does not set forth sufficient facts to support any claim for reckless conduct
which could form the basis for punitive damages.
Pennsylvania recognizes the principles set forth in § 908(2) of the Restatement
(Second) of Torts. This section provides that:
Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is
outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his
reckless indifference to the rights of others. In assessing
punitive damages, the trier of fact can properly consider the
character of the defendant's act, the nature and extent of the
harm to the plaintiff that the defendant caused or intended to
cause and the wealth of the defendant.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (2).
Pennsylvania courts have adopted a strict interpretation of recklessness and
have held that a jury may award punitive damages only where the evidence shows the
defendant knows, or has reason to know of facts which create a high degree of risk of
physical harm to another, and deliberately proceeds to act in conscious disregard of, or
indifference to, that risk. Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 508 Pa.154, 494 A.2d 1088,
1097 (Pa. 1985). A finding of reckless indifference can be made where there is "some
evidence that the person actually realized the risk and acted in conscious disregard or
indifference to it" exists. Burke v. Maassen, 904 F.2d 178, 182 (3d Cir. 1990). In
determining whether punitive damages are available, "the trier of fact can properly
consider the character of the defendant's act, the nature and extent of the harm to the
plaintiff that the defendant caused or intended to cause and the wealth of the
defendant." Martin, 494 A.2d at 1096.
Here, accepting plaintiff’s allegations as true, as we must, it would certainly
appear that the allegations satisfy the standard in Pennsylvania for setting forth a claim
for recklessness and punitive damages. At the very least, the Court cannot say at this
stage of the proceedings that the allegations made in plaintiff’s Complaint do not
establish recklessness on the part of defendant. Defendant , as the moving party, bears
the burden to show that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for punitive damages. See
Kehr Packages v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). While, defendant
has properly stated the law in Pennsylvania as it relates to recklessness, she has not
satisfied her burden in establishing that the Court should grant its motion to strike all
allegations of recklessness. This determination is one that is appropriate on a motion for
summary judgment where both parties have had the benefit of discovery, as discovery
is necessary to determine whether defendant’s conduct was so reckless that they
warrant awarding punitive damages. See, e.g. Lindsay v. Kvortek, 865 F. Supp. 264,
269 (W.D. Pa. 1994) (noting "[a]t this early stage of the case, the Court cannot assume
that plaintiffs will be unable to present any evidence to support a claim of punitive
damages."). Id. Having determined that discovery is required to determine the validity of
plaintiffs' allegations of recklessness, the Court will deny defendant’s motion to strike all
allegations of recklessness and punitive damages.
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