In a special contribution to The Legal Intelligencer, Anapol Weiss Partner Stephen Pokiniewski Jr. authored an article titled, “What is Gross Negligence Under Pennsylvania Law?”, appearing in the April 17 2020 issue. Mr. Pokiniewski discusses the specifics of a lawsuit brought by two student athletes against their college, and the implications of the case outcome for Pennsylvania gross negligence cases moving forward, specifically those involving liability waivers.
The Case of Feleccia vs. Lackawanna College
In Feleccia vs. Lackawanna College, two student athletes injured during the same football practice brought a lawsuit against the college. Although the athletes had signed a waiver of liability, they contended that gross negligence on the part of the school’s football coach caused them bodily harm. The case ruled against their favor at trial court, so the plaintiffs appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The highest court of our state compared this case to the findings of another: Tayar vs. Camelbak Ski, where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “held that an otherwise valid waiver of liability was against public policy and could not bar a plaintiff’s claim of injury caused by the defendant’s reckless conduct.” The jury determined that the college owed the students a duty of care, included the hiring and training of qualified football trainers, and that in this case, the college did not uphold their duty of care.
Negligence vs. Gross Negligence
Gross negligence is a form of negligence that requires proof that a party “significantly departed from how a reasonably careful person would act under the circumstances.” However, it has been noted that “Pennsylvania courts have struggled to provide a workable definition of gross negligence when faced with the need to apply the concept.” Comparing the Feleccia case to the outcome of the earlier Tayar case gave the Supreme Court a yardstick by which to determine level of negligence by Lackawanna College, even in light of the liability waivers the student athletes had signed.
Upon review of this case by the Supreme Court, it was found that a new common law was unnecessary after the findings of this case because the defendant had not undertaken its required duty to provide qualified football trainers to the student athletes.
Mr. Pokiniewski focuses his practice on medical malpractice, nursing home, and personal injury matters. He has been a valued team member at Anapol Weiss for over thirty years, and has a secured a number of notable verdicts and settlements in his career as a personal injury attorney.