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Pennsylvania Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment Based on Failure to Establish Causation in Boating Accident Lawsuit

Recently, the Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed whether a lower court’s judgment in favor of the defendants’ summary judgment motions was proper in a boating accident lawsuit.  The issue in this case was whether the court erred by finding there were no genuine issues of material fact concerning vicarious liability and violations of Pennsylvania law.

In this case, Joshua DeVitis brought a lawsuit on behalf of his wife, Gina DeVitis, following her death.  He alleged that Keith Dasher and Eagle Rock Community Association (ERCA) were responsible for Gina’s death.  Gina had been part of a group partying on a boat on a private lake. The boat was navigated by Mr. Dasher.  Mr. Dasher attached a floating dock owned by ERCA and relocated it.  Gina used the dock and entered the lake. Joshua followed and then found Gina floating in the water with no signs of life.

The trial court granted summary judgment on behalf of Mr. Dasher and ERCA, based on the lack of evidence of a causal connection between the allegations of negligence and the harm the decedent suffered.

On appeal, Mr. DeVitis challenged the trial court’s decision in failing to find that a genuine issue of material fact remained regarding a violation of Pennsylvania law, vicarious liability, and condoning a boat party.  But the court stated that Mr. DeVitis was not challenging the basis of the trial court’s grant of the summary judgment motions. Instead, he challenged issues that the trial court did not decide and that were irrelevant once the court found causation was lacking.

The court held that the issues in this case were not properly before the court because the lower court based their decision on the causation issue, and Mr. DeVitis did not challenge this issue. Instead, he based his first issue on appeal on ERCA’s vicarious liability for Mr. Dasher’s acts.  He based his second issue on whether Mr. Dasher violated Pennsylvania law concerning boat safety.

On appeal, the court stated that even if the lower court found a genuine issue of material fact regarding either vicarious liability or a violation of Pennsylvania law, the trial court’s finding that Mr. DeVitis failed to prove causation was determinative of the summary judgment motions.

Furthermore, the court stated the causation issue was distinct from the issues of vicarious liability and violations of Pennsylvania laws regarding condoning a boat party.

The appellate court stated that Mr. DeVitis waived his challenge to the legal basis for the lower court’s grant of the summary judgment motions. The court affirmed the judgment.

At Needle Law, P.C., our injury and wrongful death attorneys can evaluate your case and help you pursue the damages you deserve.  Contact the office at570-344-1266 or via our online form to set up a free consultation.

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