Reckless Abandon – Allegations of Recklessness and Punitive Damages Survive in Ski Collision Case (PA)

by

Doyle v. Dianna (Pennsylvania)
(trial court disposition)

The plaintiff was skiing with his son in a highly congested area of a ski resort when he was struck by the defendant who was “allegedly skiing abnormally fast, out-of-control, recklessly” and who became airborne such that he was unable to slow down, stop, or avoid the impact.  Plaintiff filed an against against the defendant skier alleging that he acted recklessly and should be liable for punitive damages.  The defendant moved to strike both the references to “recklessness” and the punitive damages claim from the complaint.

Reviewing the applicable standards under Pennsylvania law, the Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania denied the defendant’s motion.  The defendant had argued that the complaint lacked specificity to support an allegation of reckless conduct, but the court disagreed, noting that in Pennsylvania “recklessness is a condition of the mind that may be averred generally.”

With regard to the claim for punitive damages, the court stated that it “must be supported by evidence sufficient to establish that (1) a defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the plaintiff was exposed and that (2) he acted, or failed to act, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk.”  The court then concluded that the plaintiff alleged facts that, if true, were sufficient justify punitive damages.  Plaintiff had alleged:

“Defendant knew he was skiing in an area that ‘is generally highly congested … with other skiers.’ [Citation omitted.]  The Plaintiffs further aver that the Defendant was (a) skiing at an abnormally high rate of speed, (b) jumping and/or becoming airborne ‘rendering himself completely out-of-control and unable to change his course of direction,’ and (c) that he knew that he would not be able to stop in an emergency situation due to the conditions of the area.”

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