PHILADELPHIA – Counsel for defendants in a strict liability case are seeking to dismiss a claim for punitive damages, brought forward by a man who suffered third-degree burns in an explosion from a trash truck’s natural gas system.

Michael P. Rausch filed a motion for preliminary objections to strike those punitive damages on March 15, citing a lack of specificity used in the justification for the aforementioned damages. Rausch represents Motion Industries, Inc. in the subject case.

“Although plaintiff’s complaint alleges that Motion’s conduct was outrageous and recklessly indifferent so as to warrant the imposition of punitive damages, this language is mere boilerplate.” Rausch said in the motion. “In order for a demand for punitive damages to survive preliminary objection, plaintiff must plead with great specificity and detail facts that show outrageous conduct, bad motive, or reckless indifference to the interests of others. Even conduct that would rise to the level of gross negligence is insufficient to maintain a claim for punitive damages,” Rausch said.

Rausch added the plaintiff’s complaint lacked notice of outrageousness, reckless indifference and malice necessary to warrant a charge of punitive damages, and desired a paragraph relating to “proper testing procedure” of the gas system be stricken from the complaint for that exact same lack of notice.

“Plaintiff’s complaint includes ‘catch-all” and general unspecified references to ‘proper testing procedure’ that were allegedly violated. Pennsylvania law prohibits such general averments in pleadings,” Rausch said.

Similarly, Meghan E. Campbell’s motion for preliminary objections, filed on March 17, said that “a plaintiff cannot support a claim for punitive damages by relying upon boilerplate allegations of ‘reckless’ or ‘wanton’ or ‘outrageous conduct.” Campbell represents The Heil Co. in the instant action.

“Plaintiff’s complaint merely provides boilerplate language in his allegations that defendant Heil Co.’s conduct was outrageous and recklessly indifferent without clearly and specifically showing how defendant Heil Co.’s actions rose to the level of outrageousness required for punitive damages. Without a factual basis to support plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages, plaintiff’s demand for punitive damages should be stricken,” Campbell’s complaint read.

Jerry Ayala-Santiago of Reading filed suit on Feb. 14 in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, against Republic Services, Inc. of Philadelphia, Motion Industries, Inc. of Sharon Hill, Agility Fuel Solutions, LLC and Agility Fuel Solutions Holdings, Inc. of Wilmington, Del., Mack Trucks, Inc. of Macungie and The Heil Co. of Chattanooga, Tenn.

“On June 22, 2016, [Jerry] Ayala-Santiago was at work, getting ready to wash a Republic Services trash truck, when he was severely burned as a result of a violent explosion that was caused by a failure of a component part of the compressed natural gas system attached to the truck. As a result of the fire, Mr. Ayala-Santiago suffered third-degree burns to his face, arms and lower extremities. The escaping fugitive gas that caused the explosion was the result of a product failure and created an unreasonably dangerous condition for those who came into contact with the trash truck,” the lawsuit says.

“As fully developed herein, defendants were aware of the deficiency in the product prior to the explosion, yet failed to properly design, manufacture, maintain, inspect, or replace the hose that permitted the fugitive gas to escape. Defendants also failed to warn those using the product of the danger posed. The defendants’ outrageous failures, as set forth herein, were a factual cause of the severe and permanent injuries suffered by [Jerry] Ayala-Santiago,” the suit continues.

The plaintiff says the defendants caused his injuries, of “serious, severe and disabling injuries including, but not limited to, serious burns, scarring, incapacity, psychiatric and emotional injuries, and other injuries the full extent of which are not yet known, and some or all of which may be permanent in nature.”

For multiple counts of intentional misrepresentation, negligence, strict liability, the plaintiffs are seeking damages, jointly and severally, compensatory and punitive damages in excess of the arbitration limits in effect in Philadelphia County at the time this cause of action was commenced.

The plaintiff is represented by Steven G. Wigrizer and Jason S. Weiss of Wapner Newman Wigrizer Brecher & Miller, in Philadelphia.

The defendants are represented by Rausch and Gerald J. Valentini of Deasey Mahoney & Valentini; Michael B. Pullano, Joseph Goldberg and Campbell of Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby; and Allen R. Bunker of Mancheski & Bunker, also all in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 170203845

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

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Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas
1501 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA - 19102

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