Court of Common Pleas Calls a Foul on Secondary Liability Claims Over Collapsing Soccer Dome (PA)

The Court of Common Pleas of Pennsylvania dismissed contribution and indemnity cross-claims against a co-defendant, focusing on the lack of a basis for secondary liability claims against the co-defendant.

Plaintiff, Turkey Run Properties, LP initiated a lawsuit following the collapse of a soccer dome on property the company owns. Turkey Run leased the dome from Soccer Dome, LLC and used the agent Gleason Agency, Inc. to purchase insurance from Seneca Specialty Insurance Company to cover the dome. After the dome collapsed, Turkey Run filed a claim with Seneca, who subsequently denied to cover Turkey Claims after investigating the incident. Turkey Run then initiated suit against Seneca, claiming that Seneca breached their contract by failing to pay the claim, against Gleason for negligence in completing the insurance application, and against Soccer Dome for negligent maintenance of the dome itself. Upon answering Turkey Run’s complaint, all three defendants filed cross-claims against all the other defendants. While almost all of the claims settled, Gleason’s contribution and indemnity cross-claims against Soccer Dome remained unsettled. Seeking to have Gleason’s cross-claims dismissed, Soccer Dome filed a Motion for Discontinuance.

The Court of Common Pleas treated Soccer Dome’s motion as a Motion for Summary Judgment, and ultimately dismissed the contribution and indemnity cross-claims due to the lack of a legal relationship between the two parties and Gleason’s erroneous allegations of Soccer Dome’s secondary liability.

Gleason argued that it was in no way responsible for the accident as Soccer Dome was “actually responsible for the collapse.” Gleason further maintained that at most, it was secondarily liable, as it did not contribute to causing the dome to collapse as Soccer Dome did. But, the court dismissed Gleason’s argument as an incorrect understanding of primary and secondary liability, describing it as based on “some sort of ‘which negligence was worse’ analysis.”

Moreover, the court explained that Gleason’s focus on the cause of the collapse ignored the fact that the allegations against Gleason were grounded in the delayed insurance payment that Turkey Run linked to Gleason’s negligence in obtaining the policy. Turkey Run argued that such negligence on Gleason’s part resulted in additional mildew and mold damages while the parties argued over coverage. In light of the negligence allegations against Gleason, there was thus no basis to shift blame to Soccer Dome.

The court referred to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s explanation that “[t]he difference between primary and secondary liability is not based on a difference in degrees of negligence” as evidence of Gleason’s misunderstanding of secondary liability.

Thanks to Nicole Pedi for her contribution to this post. If you have any questions, please email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com.