In 2017, there were an estimated 4,102 fatalities that resulted from accidents involving commercial trucks. Passenger vehicle occupants are the most likely to die in these crashes. This should come as no surprise because these vehicles may be 20 times heavier than other types on the road. Large trucks are involved in roughly 12% of the overall roadway accidents that result in a fatality.
A panel of three judges in a Pennsylvania Superior Court recently heard a case that originated following a deadly truck accident. The appeals court affirmed a lower court ruling that granted summary judgment in favor of Greenwich Insurance Company. Greenwich was the defendant in the case brought by the Erie Insurance Exchange. Erie sought to recover compensation from Greenwich toward an order for a $1.1 million settlement that they were responsible for.
Jeremy Andre died when a massive trash truck crushed him. Andre's family brought a suit against Ches-Mont Disposal, his employer, and Stephen Koons, who leased the truck to Ches-Mont. Koons does business as Miller Concrete. The family received some benefits from worker's compensation and Koons also presented both Erie and Ches-Mont with these claims. Koons is a co-owner of Ches-Mont. Erie did agree to pay the claim while Greenwich denied any liability.
Erie asserted that Greenwich should have to pay a portion of the overall settlement. A judge in Philadelphia did not agree with this assertion. Greenwich had provided an umbrella policy for Koons. The court reviewed the policy terms and found that this insurance policy was only applicable when Koons was operating within the scope of his duty for Ches-Mont.
The appellate court was tasked with determining if Koons was being sued individually or as Miller Concrete. The court found that Koons was not operating on behalf of Ches-Mont at the time. This meant that the Greenwich umbrella policy was inapplicable.
The concept of collateral estoppel bars “subsequent litigation” when a valid judgment has already been made. It can be thought of as similar to rules against “double jeopardy” in criminal cases where a defendant may not be retried for a crime they were already acquitted of. In this context, it prohibits further litigation when the defendant has already been sued in an alternate venue or at another time.
Workers Compensation Claim
The court found that the workers' compensation claim “wiped away” any claims regarding Koons acts of negligence. If in fact Koons was sued as being within his duties with Ches-Mont, the worker's compensation was Andre's exclusive remedy. It is long established that workers' compensation is a “sole and exclusive” means of recovery against an employer from a work-related injury. The injured worker may not pursue compensation through an additional lawsuit beyond worker's compensation.
Parties in a case may file a motion, which is a formal request for an order or judgment. Parties may make a motion requesting that the case be dismissed, for a continuance, etc. They are generally presented to the court and the opposing party in writing, unless during a trial. In this case, the defendant filed a motion requesting summary judgment. If granted, this essentially ends the action because there are no grounds for continuing.