Sweeney v. Louisville Ladder, PICS Case No. 14-0242 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 6, 2014) Baylson, J. (3 pages).

U.S. DISTRICT COURT - EASTERN

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CIVIL PROCEDURE

Motion Practice • Punitive Damages • Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

Sweeney v. Louisville Ladder, PICS Case No. 14-0242 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 6, 2014) Baylson, J. (3 pages).

The court denied defendant's motion to dismiss plaintiff's claims and allegations relating to punitive damages.

Plaintiff was the administratrix of the estate of William Sweeney, who died of injuries sustained in an accident in which Sweeney fell from a ladder. Plaintiff filed this products liability action against the ladder manufacturer. The complaint alleged various claims based on the allegations that Sweeney's fall resulted from defendant's defective and negligent design, manufacture and distribution of the ladder. Plaintiff alleged (1) the ladder lacked any safety warnings affixed to it regarding proper use, (2) that it failed to comply with safety standards, (3) that the ladder was observed to be missing nuts and bolts following Sweeney's fall, and (4) that the ladder was designed and manufactured without proper safety mechanisms to prevent the kind of accident suffered by Sweeney. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant knew of should have known the ladder was unsafe, and by selling it defendant demonstrated willful, wanton or reckless disregard for human life. The complaint requested both compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the punitive damages claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), but did not challenge the remainder of the complaint.

Punitive damages may be imposed only if a defendant's conduct is "outrageous due to either the defendant's evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others." Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 584 Pa. 179, 188 (2005). A request for punitive damages must be supported by factual allegations. Conclusory statements are not sufficient.

The court found the complaint alleged a litany of actions and failures to act on the part of defendant, which must be accepted as true on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The complaint alleged defendant engaged in these acts or omissions with recklessness and malice. The court held this was sufficient to plead a claim for punitive damages and denied defendant's motion to dismiss. The court further noted that defendant would have a further opportunity to renew its punitive damages contentions at the close of discovery.