HARRISBURG – On Oct. 29, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated a trial court decision that originally granted summary judgment in favor of Grace Construction Management Company in construction contract litigation with Burlington Coat Factory.
Judge Victor Stabile wrote the Court’s opinion to vacate the June 14, 2013, summary judgment verdict of the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and remanded the case.
The action concerned whether Grace breached a contractual obligation to indemnify Burlington Coat Factory of Pennsylvania and Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corporation, in a negligence action brought by an employee of Grace’s sub-contractor injured during renovations to a Burlington Coat Factory store.
On Oct. 1, 2009, Bryan Eddis, an employee of Belfi Brothers (one of Grace’s sub-subcontractors) sustained serious injuries when the gate of a freight elevator closed on him. Eddis filed suit against Burlington and Schindler Elevator Corporation, but not against Grace.
Eddis alleged his injuries resulted from negligent construction, maintenance and repair of the levator. In 2012, Eddis received a $70,000.00 settlement from Schindler and Burlington, with each contributing $35,000.00 to the settlement. Burlington settled without admitting liability.
As Grace rejected financial responsibility for the damage claim, Burlington sued Grace for breach of contract in October 2011. It averred Grace breached its contractual obligation to “supervise and/or properly supervise its subcontractors, their subcontractors, and their employees regarding use of the freight elevators within the store, thereby causing the incident that gave rise to the Eddis Action.”
Burlington filed a summary judgment motion on Jan. 15, 2013, seeking judgment in its favor on their breach of contract claim – but on June 14, 2013, the trial court denied its motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of Grace. Burlington subsequently appealed this decision.
The Superior Court differed from the trial court in their assessment of the matter.
“The alleged acts of negligence asserted by appellants do not concern professional malpractice, which by necessity requires expert testimony,” Stabile said. “Accordingly, the absence of an expert report from appellants does not warrant summary judgment in Grace’s favor on the issue of causation.”
The Court also concluded Grace was not obligated to indemnify the appellant for its own negligence.
“We reject this argument as having no merit. We note that if a contractual indemnitee settles an underlying action, the law does not prohibit recovery. Rather, courts must consider the validity of the underlying claim and the reasonableness of the settlement,” Stabile said.
Stabile explained the source of fault for the accident had yet to be determined, but it was clear the trial court should not have granted summary judgment.
“The cause of the accident—and which party or parties are legally responsible—is an issue for trial. At this point in the proceedings, it was error for the trial court to grant summary judgment on this claim,” Stabile stated.
Stabile concluded by vacating the prior summary judgment and remanding the case.
“The record on summary judgment does not support Grace’s contention that ‘Burlington Coat Factory’ is a separate entity from appellants, so as to deprive appellants from pursuing breach of contract claims against Grace under the contract,” Stabile said.
The Superior Court Of Pennsylvania case 2036 EDA 2013
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com