Summary Judgment Affirmed in Wrongful Death Claim

On January 16, 2008, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the grant of summary judgment in a wrongful death matter defended by Margolis Edelstein Pittsburgh partner Miles A. Kirshner.  The decedent was killed as a result of a motor vehicle accident which occurred when he pulled from a side street into a larger thoroughfare in the City of Erie, PA.  His estate brought suit against a tavern located at this intersection, contending that it was negligent in permitting its patrons to park their vehicles so close to the corner as to cause an obstruction to the view of the emerging motorist.  The estate noted that the City of Erie has an ordinance requiring property owners to maintain sidewalks, and contended that this tavern was non-compliant because it did not have a sidewalk in front of its premises.

Following the grant of summary judgment in the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County, an appeal was taken to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.  In its Memorandum Opinion and Order, the appellate court agreed with the defense position that the tavern had no cognizable legal duty to the decedent motorist.  The Court held that the City of Erie sidewalk ordinance contained a grandfather provision which excepted existing uses at the time of its passage; that the ordinance was for the benefit of pedestrians and not for motorists; that the subject motor vehicle accident was not a reasonably forseeable consequence of violation of the ordinance; and that subjecting this property owner to liability would be unfair under Pennsylvania’s traditional analysis of legal duty.