HARRISBURG – The Superior Court on March 1 upheld a trial court order granting summary judgment in a case in which the plaintiffs routinely missed court-set procedural deadlines, resulting in the court’s decision not to recognize an expert report that may have proved their case.  

Plaintiffs Sandra Krzan and Frank J. Topolski Jr., administrators of the estates of Caroline and Frank Topolski, sued Keystone Propane Services Inc. and Kenneth Pringle after an explosion and subsequent fire resulted in the deaths of Caroline and Frank Topolski.

Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that the explosion and fire were caused by propane gas that leaked into their basement through a service line attached to a propane tank provided by Keystone Propane Services.

In addition, the administrators claim Pringle was at fault because he “negligently disconnected the gas line and left it uncapped” when he installed a hot water heater in the Topolskis' home eight months before the explosion.

The lawsuit brought claims of negligence, wrongful death, survival and negligent infliction of emotional distress against Keystone and Pringle.

After a change in counsel and obtaining three continuances, the Superior Court said the administrators missed their expert report filing deadline by four months. As a result, Keystone and Pringle asked the trial court to grant their motions for summary judgment based on the fact that the administrators had not presented expert testimony proving their case.

The administrators did not file their responses to the summary judgment motions by the deadlines set by the court, and the summary judgment motions were granted.

As part of the past-due response to the summary judgment motion filed by Pringle, the administrators filed an unsigned expert report in which “the expert opined that the explosion was caused by Pringle’s failure to properly secure the gas line when he installed the hot water heater,” according to the Superior Court ruling.

No response was ever filed to Keystone’s motion for summary judgment.

"Although the trial court’s decision to ignore the unsigned expert report essentially guaranteed that Pringle would succeed on his motion for summary judgment, Administrators’ own errors sowed the seeds of that decision," the Superior Court wrote.

"Throughout the course of this matter, and on appeal, Administrators have failed to ensure that this case proceeded expeditiously through the system. As such, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in omitting Administrators’ unsigned expert report from consideration."

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