Pa. Superior Court panel affirms Phila. judge's decision to enforce auto accident settlement

By Jon Campisi | Jan 31, 2013

A three-judge panel of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has affirmed a Philadelphia judge’s

A three-judge panel of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has affirmed a Philadelphia judge’s

decision to enforce a settlement arising out of an automobile accident case.

The appellate judges, in a Jan. 29 non-precedential decision, determined that the trial court was correct to enforce a settlement in a case in which husband and wife Ruth and John Wallace had sued Ellen Feeney over injuries Ruth Wallace allegedly sustained following a vehicle accident with Feeney in May 2002.

The couple sued Feeney in civil court in April 2004 and the case went to arbitration in January 2006.

Background information shows that an arbitrator eventually ruled in Feeney’s favor.

The Wallaces appealed the arbitrator’s decision to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, which held a pre-trial settlement conference in late August 2011, at which time the parties were unable to reach a settlement agreement, the record shows.

The trial court was informed in late September 2011 by Feeney’s lawyer that the parties had reached an agreement and that further proceedings were unnecessary.

The trial judge marked the case settled on Oct. 4, 2011, and two months later Feeney filed a motion to enforce the settlement, a request that was granted by the court on Feb. 13, 2012, 11 days after the trial court held a hearing on the settlement motion, according to the record.

The Philadelphia judge had determined that the matter was settled with prejudice for the sum of $22,000.

The trial court further ordered the parties to execute a release within 10 days of the order.

The Wallaces soon appealed, arguing that the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion in enforcing a settlement of the case allegedly entered into by the couple.

Specifically, the Wallaces contended that the trial court was required to conduct a hearing regarding the existence of a settlement agreement before making a determination as to its validity, the Superior Court ruling states.

The appeals judges wrote that the certified record confirms that prior to entering the order that granted Feeney’s motion to enforce settlement, the trial court had conducted an evidentiary hearing on Feb. 2. 2012.

“Accordingly, to the extent that Appellants seek relief on the basis that the trial court failed to conduct a hearing, this aspect of Appellants’ claim fails,” the Superior Court ruling states.

The Wallaces had also claimed that they expressed a “willingness” to settle, conditioned upon proof from Feeney’s insurance carrier regarding the limits and amount of liability coverage.

The couple also contended that the settlement was further conditioned upon immediate payment of funds, because Ruth Wallace had an “acute need for money to assist with her sister’s emergent medical care,” the ruling states.

The appeals panel, however, wrote that the Wallaces have provided no legal authority or record citations to support their “bald allegations” that the trial court erred in granting Feeney’s motion to enforce a valid settlement reached by the parties.

This issue is thus waived, the judges determined, and because the Wallaces waived their only issue for review, the panel dismissed the appeal.

The judges also acknowledged that the Wallaces were representing themselves in their appeal pro se, although it was noted that pro se litigants are not entitled to any special benefits because they elect to move forward without legal counsel.

The opinion was written by Superior Court Judge Judith Ference Olson. Judge Christine L. Donohue and Senior Judge James J. Fitzgerald also participated in the decision.

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