A Matter Of Factual Causation (PA)

In Mariana Koziar v. Neal T. Rayner and Andrea Rayner, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a plaintiff needed to establish factual causation, even when the defendant was found negligent and the plaintiff produced uncontroverted evidence of injury.

The plaintiff in this case, a house cleaner, slipped and fell as she exited a client’s garage door.  She severely injured her left ankle, requiring surgery, and subsequently sued the client/homeowners, alleging that the “lip” of the garage door was negligently constructed, and the driveway pavement was negligently maintained.  During trial, the jury heard differing accounts of how the accident occurred from the plaintiff herself.  At the trial’s conclusion, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the homeowners, finding that while they were negligent, their negligence was not the factual cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

After the jury was discharged, the plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.  The trial court granted the motion, and the homeowners appealed.  On appeal the plaintiff argued that when a jury finds a defendant negligent and concedes the existence of an injury, the jury is not permitted to find that the defendant’s negligence was not a substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injury.  The Superior Court rejected this argument, noting that Pennsylvania defines factual causation in the but for sense, and reversed the trial court’s order for a new trial.  The court concluded that while the jury could have found that the homeowners were negligent in any of the descriptions of the accident, it ultimately determined that the plaintiff had been negligent, herself.  The fact that there was uncontroverted evidence of an injury did not relieve the plaintiff of the burden to show factual causation.

Thus, this case illustrates the continued need of the plaintiff to carry his or her burden in order to prevail in an action.

Thanks to Robert Turchick for his contribution to this post.  Please email Colleen E.  Hayes with any questions.