PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia federal magistrate judge has scheduled March 20 as the day to possibly settle a subrogation case over damages related to a house fire, a month after the defendants lost their effort to dismiss the case.

In a Feb. 22 order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Caracappa set March 20 aside for plaintiffs Allstate Insurance Co. and Larry and Virginia Wingard to sit down with defendants Joseph Barness, Omegaflex Inc., Titeflex Corp. and UGI Corp. in order to settle allegations of strict liability and other claims relevant to a Macungie house fire that caused $270,000 in damages.

“The court assumes that settlement of this case is a real possibility, and the court has set aside the entire day for this conference. Parties are to remain present until expressly released by the court,” Caracappa wrote, adding all parties must be physically present.

According to an opinion filed Feb. 15 by Chief Justice Lawrence Stengel in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the plaintiffs filed counts of strict liability and negligence against Omegaflex and Titeflex and alleged breach of contract and implied warranty against UGI. Stengel's opinion denied the defendants' motion to dismiss.

According to the opinion, in 2002 Joseph Barness was hired by the Wingards to build their home and two separate types of Corrugated Stainless-Steel Tubing (CSST) were installed for gas. The memorandum states in July 2016, UGI was called to the property to inspect a gas leak and "failed to properly inspect or examine the CSST prior to restoring gas service." 

The opinion states the CSST was energized by a lighting strike in August 2016, which created a hole in the Omegaflex CSST and caused gas to ignite.

As the home insurer, Allstate became subrogated to the rights of the Wingards, who filed an amended complaint that Stengel granted in 2017, which was then countered by Titeflex’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.

A two-part practice is mandated when a failure to state a claim motion is alleged, according to the judge.

“First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The court must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true but may disregard legal conclusions,” Stengel wrote in the opinion, citing Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny as precedent. “Second, a district court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a ‘plausible claim for relief.’”

Furthermore, Stengel notes that under state law, a plaintiff claiming strict liability must meet three criteria including “(1) the product was defective; (2) the defect was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and (3) the defect causing injury existed at the time the product left the seller’s hands,” according to the opinion.

“Plaintiffs do not merely recite the elements for strict liability and negligence, nor do they allege broad conclusory allegations. Accepting these well-pleaded factual allegations as true, I find that plaintiffs’ complaint sufficiently alleges that Titeflex’s defective product was a substantial factor in bringing about the fire and subsequent damage to plaintiffs' property,” Stengel wrote.

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