Nicholas Malfitano Feb. 11, 2016, 10:40am


ALLENTOWN – A federal judge has rejected the majority of claims made by a man who sued a trucking company for corporate negligence and damages relating to a 2013 motor vehicle accident.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin ruled Monday to grant a partial motion for summary judgment to defendants Senn Freight Lines, Inc. and James Risher, against plaintiff Zachary Testa. The motion effectively dismissed Testa’s claims of vicarious liability – negligent hiring, entrustment, training and supervision on Senn Freight Lines’s part.

Testa’s sport-utility vehicle and Risher’s tractor-trailer were involved in an accident on April 9, 2013, in Upper Saucon Township – where Testa alleges his vehicle was stopped at a red light and Risher’s tractor-trailer rear-ended his SUV, which then caused Testa to collide with another vehicle.

Testa averred he sustained serious personal injuries and damage to his vehicle, due to Risher’s negligence and Senn Freight Lines’s vicarious liability as Risher’s employer. Testa initially included “recklessness” from Risher and a desire to seek punitive damages in his complaint, but both parties agreed to strike those elements in March 2014.

In July, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment as to Testa’s claims of corporate negligence (negligent hiring, entrustment, training and supervision) being redundant and irrelevant – since Senn Freight Lines already admitted to Risher being in their employ – and since both parties agreed to strike all references to both recklessness and punitive damages.

Perkin agreed with the defense’s rationale, saying federal courts in Pennsylvania have applied the majority rule and refused to allow corporate negligence claims when “the supervisor/employer defendant admits that its employee was acting in the scope of his or her employment at the time of the accident, and the plaintiff does not have a viable claim for punitive damages against the supervisor/employer defendant.”

“Claims for negligent hiring, entrustment, training and supervision, are simply not permitted when an employer admits that its employee was acting in the scope of his employment at the time of the accident, and the plaintiff does not have a viable claim for punitive damages against the employer,” Perkin said.

Though Testa argued precedent cited by the defense would seemingly serve to immunize employers, Perkin disagreed.

“As correctly noted by defendants, those cases merely support the proposition that, where an employer admits agency, it will be liable under the theory of respondeat superior, and corporate negligence claims would not provide any liability in addition to vicarious liability for its employees’ negligence,” Perkin stated.

“Defendants, Senn Freight Lines, Inc. and [James] Risher’s motion for partial summary judgment is granted, and plaintiff’s claims for negligent hiring, entrustment, training, and supervision against defendant Senn Freight Lines, Inc. are dismissed,” Perkin said.

Perkin further stipulated Testa’s claims in the second count of his complaint apart from those relating to corporate negligence will remain.

The plaintiff is represented by Mark K. Altemose of Cohen & Feeley, in Bethlehem.

The defendants are represented by Gary N. Stewart and Lane Evan Brody of Rawle & Henderson, in Harrisburg.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:14-cv-00117

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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