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The Superior Court reiterates that the Economic Loss Doctrine applies only when there is no claim for physical injury or property damage

August 8, 2017
Jennifer Segal Coatsworth
Posted in: Automobile & Trucking

Donaldson v. Davidson Brothers, Inc., 2016 PA Super 150, involves a three-way fatal motor vehicle accident with a very complex procedural history. On June 16, 2008 on Route 322 in Potter Township, Centre County, a tractor trailer owned by Davidson Brothers and driven by George Donley was traveling westbound and rear-ended a vehicle operated by Sarah Donaldson, which thrust Donaldson’s auto into oncoming eastbound traffic where it collided with a vehicle owned by LJF, Appellant, and driven by Wilbert Quade, resulting in the death of Ms. Donadlson.  Ms. Donaldson’s brother brought the action as Administrator against the Davidson interests, who later joined LJF and Mr. Quade as additional defendants, alleging their negligence caused or contributed to Ms. Donaldson’s death. LJF settled property claims with the Davidson interests and the Release specifically carved out an exception of any claim for loss of contract, which was preserved.

In its Answer and Counterclaim to the Joinder Complaint, LJF asserted a claim for loss of contract against the Donaldson interests and Davidson interests.  The Davidson interests filed a Motion for Judgment on the pleadings, which lead to the appeal.  The central issue to all of the questions raised on appeal is whether an otherwise general release, which preserved a “loss of contract” claim, adequately preserved that issue, or whether the Economic Loss Doctrine applies to bar the claim.  LJF also argued that the Law of the Case Doctrine should not apply to enforce the Economic Loss Doctrine.

The Superior Court found that a cause of action for “loss of contract” was not barred by the Economic Loss Doctrine. The Court noted the Economic Loss Doctrine provides that no cause of action exists for negligence that results solely in economic damages unaccompanied in physical injury or property damage. The Superior Court disagreed with the trial court’s finding that claims for economic losses, such as “loss of contract” are not a foreseeable result of negligence, and thus allowing the contract claims to proceed would be counter to public policy.  Specifically, the Superior Court found the trial court misplaced its reliance on cases that did not address the issue of whether a claim was solely for economic losses. The Superior Court looked to the damages claimed here and found that there was some property damage claimed.