The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently vacated two orders of summary judgment following review of the trial court’s determination regarding the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. In Medsger v. Hawaiian Tan, No. 1635 WDA 2016, Nov. 20, 2017, the Superior Court held that the trial court’s granting of summary judgment for defendants was erroneous, and vacated the orders as well as remanding the case for trial.
The case arose from an incident in which defendant Matkovich, a patron of Hawaiian Tan salon, was turning left onto a highway after exiting the salon. Plaintiff Medsger was traveling on his motorcycle northbound on the highway. While turning onto the highway, Matkovich’s vehicle collided with Medsger, causing serious injuries to Medsger. At the time of the collision, there were five temporary yard signs advertising Hawaiian Tan’s business that were located along the highway between the exit Matkovich was using and the entrance to the highway. Plaintiff alleged that Hawaiian Tan was negligent in placing the sings too close to the highway in violation of local ordinances. Plaintiff also alleged that the property owner of the building in which Hawaiian Tan was located was negligent by permitting Hawaiian Tan to erect and maintain the signs too close to the highway.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Hawaiian Tan and the property owner, concluding that Plaintiff failed to present a prima facie case that the placement of the advertising signs contributed to the accident by blocking Matkovich’s view of the highway. In granting defendants’ motions for summary judgment, the trial court rejected an affidavit by Plaintiff’s son which attached several photographs depicting the location of the signs. The trial court ruled that the affidavit was an unscientific recreation of the accident scene and that it lacked assurance that it accurately reflected Matikovich’s viewpoint at the time of the accident; thus failing to raise a genuine issue of fact as to whether the sign placement impaired Matkovich’s view of the highway.
On appeal, the Superior Court applied a de novo standard of review as to the presence of a genuine issue of fact. In reversing the trial court’s granting of summary judgment, the Superior Court stated that, under Pennsylvania law, credibility and weight of witness testimony are not proper considerations at summary judgment stage, but rather that they fall under the purview of the jury. The Superior Court further stated that, when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff (the non-moving party), the information and photographs contained in the affidavit created a genuine issue of fact. The court noted that, at the summary judgment stage, it was irrelevant whether Plaintiff’s son qualified as an expert witness, and that Plaintiff was entitled to introduce the photographs and have the jury weigh the credibility of the affidavit. In its opinion, the PA Superior Court provides a concise and helpful articulation of the Pennsylvania standard for summary judgment, while also citing the specific examples of layperson’s affidavits and photographs from the scene of an accident.
The reality is, this decision is likely good news for plaintiffs in PA, who are seeking to avoid incurring expert witness fees at the motion stage. Thanks for Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.