Trial Judge Criticized for Tossing Wrongful-Death Suit
After several years of discovery, trial was originally scheduled for October 2012, but Jones' attorney sought a continuance due to his wife's illness and trial was rescheduled for April 8, 2013, Lazarus said.
But on March 11, 2013, Jones' counsel filed a motion to adjourn trial, this time citing Jones' health issues and the unavailability of the plaintiff's experts, according to Lazarus.
Jones' counsel said in the motion that his client would not be able to proceed with trial for another 60 to 90 days, Lazarus said.
Tilson, however, denied the motion, according to Lazarus.
On April 8, 2013, the day trial was scheduled to start, Jones' counsel again informed Tilson that his client was ill and unable to appear, but counsel for the defense opposed another continuance, Lazarus said.
Tilson dismissed the case, saying, "'This is one of the oldest cases in Montgomery County right now and it could have been brought to fruition earlier and it wasn't. ... I think it's unfair to the doctors. ... I feel sorry for the family. So, because [Jones is] not prepared to go forward, this case is dismissed,'" according to Lazarus.
In his Rule 1925(a) opinion, Tilson said he thought the motion to adjourn was simply a delay tactic, according to Lazarus.
But Lazarus said Jones' motion to adjourn included a certification from her treating physician stating that she was too ill to appear at trial for 60 to 90 days and therefore met the requirements for granting a continuance under Pa.R.C.P. 216.
Lazarus called it "troubling that Judge Tilson dismissed Jones' case because it was old."
"This court has repeatedly held that a court's legitimate interest in controlling its docket should not unnecessarily infringe upon a litigant's right to a trial," Lazarus said, citing the state Supreme Court's 1972 ruling in Budget Laundry v. Munter, in which it held that "'courts must not overreach in their zeal to move cases to such an extent as to allow for no deviations from strict and literal adherence to policies justifiably laid down to improve the condition of the courts.'"