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Pennsylvania Case Bulletin – The Pennsylvania Superior Court declines to allow Plaintiffs to Amend their Complaint to include a Count of Negligent Entrustment after learning that the named Defendant was not operating the vehicle at the time of the incident

On November 23, 2015, the Superior Court in Rivera v. Manzi, 2015 WL 7453998 (Pa. Super. 2015),  held that the Plaintiffs could not amend their complaint so as to include an entirely new cause of action against the Defendant after the Statute of Limitations had elapsed.

 

On October 14, 2012, the Plaintiffs, Luz and Abrianna Rivera were traveling in their vehicle in Middletown, Pennsylvania at which time their vehicle was struck from behind by the Defendant’s vehicle.  Both Plaintiffs allegedly sustained personal injuries.  As a result of their injuries, the Riveras filed a Complaint on October 9, 2014 against Defendant Ronald Manzi, claiming that he caused their injuries through the operation of his vehicle.

 

In response to the Plaintiffs’ Complaint, Defendant Manzi filed an Answer, claiming that he was not the driver of the vehicle at the time of the incident, rather, his son Christopher was.  Before discovery could be conducted, Defendant Manzi filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the Plaintiff had sued the wrong person and that the Statute of Limitations had expired.  In support of his Motion, Defendant Manzi attached a copy of the police report relating to the accident, which identified Christopher Manzi as the Driver of the vehicle and Ronald Manzi as the owner.

 

In response to the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiffs filed a Motion to amend their Complaint and to add a count of negligent entrustment against Defendant Ronald Manzi.  Further, the Plaintiffs argued that the identity of the driver at the time of the incident was at issue and that negligent entrustment was pled in the alternative.  Additionally, the Plaintiffs opposed the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment on the grounds that the police report was not admissible evidence.

 

Ultimately, the trial court denied the Plaintiffs’ Motion and granted the Defendants Motion.  Subsequently, the Plaintiffs appealed.

 

On appeal, the Superior Court noted that there was no dispute that the Statute of Limitations had elapsed prior to the attempt to amend the Complaint.  In analyzing the proposed amendment, the Court concluded that it raised an entirely new cause of action, negligent entrustment, against the Defendant.  The Court reached this conclusion observing that the Original Complaint entirely premised the alleged negligence of Ronal Manzi on the fact that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the incident, whereas negligent entrustment necessarily requires that another have been operating the vehicle when the incident occurred.

 

Thus, the Superior Court held that the Plaintiffs’ proposed Amended Complaint is an impermissible addition of a new cause of action past the expiration of the statute of limitations.  Accordingly, the Court denied the Plaintiff’s appeal on this issue.

 

The Superior Court also addressed the trial court’s grant of the Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.  In doing so, the Court noted that the Motion was made absent any discovery having been conducted.  Further, the Court noted that the Defendant relied solely on the police report prepared regarding the incident, which is statutorily prohibited from being used as evidence.  Thus, the Court found the issue of the operator of the car to be down to the Plaintiffs’ accusation and the Defendant’s denial, which was insufficient to uphold a grant of judgment as a matter of law.

 

Overall, the Superior Court reversed and remanded the trial court’s grant of Summary Judgment on the grounds that it was premature.  The Court affirmed the denial of the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend the Complaint as the proposed amendment would be impermissible add a new claim after the Statute of Limitations had expired.