Pennsylvania Appellate Court Affirms Judgment in Favor of Defendant When Defendant Had Not Concealed Driver’s Identity, and Statute of Limitations Had Run
In a case before the Pennsylvania Superior Court, the issue on appeal was whether the trial court had properly granted summary judgment in favor of a defendant who was not the driver of the striking vehicle in a car accident lawsuit. In this case, the court reviewed the victims’ allegations that the defendant had failed to deny he was the driver of the vehicle and their contention that the lower court erred in granting summary judgment in his favor.
On September 17, 2011, Bettie Moore and Edna Northcutt were struck from behind while stopped in their vehicle at a red light. An ambulance transported them to the hospital, and the collision was witnessed by the Springfield Police.
The plaintiffs brought their negligence claim against Brendan Gilligan as the driver of the car that struck them, eight days before the statute of limitations was set to expire. After the parties conducted discovery, Gilligan replied he was not the driver involved in the incident, nor did he have personal involvement in the incident. He named his niece, Ashley Jest, as the driver of the striking vehicle. Gilligan filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court.
The plaintiffs filed a motion for reconsideration, and the trial court denied their motion. They then appealed on various grounds.
First, the plaintiffs claimed that the lower court should not have granted summary judgment when the defendant’s motion had only been supported by discovery responses and the police report from the incident. They contended that these documents cannot support a motion for summary relief. The appellate court stated that the plaintiffs had failed to timely raise this issue, and they were therefore not entitled to relief.
Next, the court reviewed Pennsylvania Procedural Rules of Law concerning denials in pleadings and the effect of failing to deny the allegations. Here, the plaintiffs contended that the defendant failed to deny he was the driver who struck their vehicle. They argued the purpose of this pleading was to identify the driver who struck their vehicle. The plaintiffs also stated that there was an exception under Pennsylvania law that prevented the defendant from claiming he did not know of his involvement in the accident if he was the driver. The court stated that since he was not involved in the accident, this exception did not apply. They also held that in reviewing the pleadings, the allegation was that of the driver’s negligence rather than identity. The court stated that the defendant sufficiently denied the averment and that the exception did not apply.
The plaintiffs also claimed that the trial court should have allowed them to add Ashley Jest as a defendant and that the defendant misled them when he actively concealed the true identity of the driver who struck their vehicle. The court stated the rule that generally plaintiffs cannot amend complaints to add new parties after the statute of limitations has run. But if a defendant actively conceals the correct party’s identity from the plaintiff, the statute of limitations may be tolled so that the plaintiff can amend.
The court stated that in this case, the defendant had not been in the vehicle at the time of the accident. In their report, the Springfield Police identified Ashley Jest as the driver of the striking vehicle. The defendant and Ashley Jest have different surnames and are different genders, and there had not been any communication between them after the accident. The court also noted that the defendant had provided Ashley Jest’s information as the driver four months after the plaintiffs filed their complaint. The court agreed with the trial court that the defendant had not concealed the driver’s identity from the plaintiffs. Since the defendant had not concealed Ashley Jest’s identity as the driver of the vehicle, it was not an error for the trial court to deny the plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint.
The court upheld the grant of the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.