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WANG v. MARZIANI

April 25, 1995

SHIRLEY WANG, Administratrix of the Estate of DEAN CHOU, Deceased, and KATHRYN ADELSTEIN, Plaintiffs, against FRANCIS MARZIANI, and A TO Z TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM

 SHIRLEY WOHL KRAM, U.S.D.J.

 In this diversity action arising out of a car accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (the "Turnpike"), defendants Francis Marziani ("Marziani") and A to Z Transportation, Inc. ("A to Z Transportation") move, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for partial summary judgment dismissing plaintiff Shirley Wang's ("Wang") punitive damages claim. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 BACKGROUND

 I. The Accident

 In 1992, plaintiff Kathryn Adelstein ("Adelstein") *fn1" and Dean Chou ("Chou"), domiciliaries of New Jersey and New York, respectively, were employed by a computer company entitled Computer Systems Repair ("CSR"). On October 21, 1992, Adelstein and Chou returned from a work assignment via the Turnpike, traveling in a van owned by CSR. Adelstein drove the vehicle and Chou sat in the front passenger seat as they proceeded eastbound on the Turnpike.

 At the same time, Marziani, a truck driver employed by A to Z Transportation, was operating a tractor-trailer westbound on the Turnpike en route to Illinois to deliver a load of cargo. At approximately 10:30 p.m., portions of the trailer broke apart from the tractor and careened across the highway divider into the eastbound lanes. The trailer crashed into the van driven by Adelstein and Chou, who were approaching from the opposite direction at the moment that Marziani lost control of his truck. The accident caused severe permanent injuries to Adelstein and led to Chou's death.

 II. The Investigation

 Shortly after the accident, Police Trooper Thomas Lett ("Lett"), a motor carrier safety inspector with the Pennsylvania state police, arrived at the crash scene to investigate the cause of the accident. Lett determined that Marziani had proceeded through a right-hand curve on the highway at an excessive speed, causing a shift in the cargo which rendered the tractor-trailer uncontrollable. See Deposition of Thomas Lett, taken on Jan. 25, 1994, annexed to the Affirmation in Opposition of Lawrence Epstein, sworn to on Jan. 25, 1995 (the "Epstein Aff."), as Exh. "F," at 12. Based on a review of the damage and interviews conducted at the accident scene, Lett estimated that Marziani had driven through the turn at sixty-five miles per hour, ten miles per hour faster than the posted speed limit. See id. at 13.

 As part of his investigation, Lett also retrieved receipts from Marziani's tractor to calculate the number of hours Marziani had logged on the highway during the week leading up to the accident. See id. at 31. After comparing the receipts to Marziani's time log, Lett concluded that Marziani had falsified his records to indicate fewer hours than he actually had driven that week. See id. Specifically, Lett found that Marziani had driven more than seventy hours during the eight-day period preceding the accident. As a result of the investigation, Marziani was convicted of careless driving and maintaining an inaccurate duty log. See letter from District Justice Brenda M. Knepper to plaintiff's counsel dated April 5, 1993, annexed to the Epstein Aff. as Exh. "G."

 III. The Present Action

 On September 30, 1994, Wang filed an amended complaint seeking punitive damages on her two claims. Specifically, Wang seeks punitive damages in the amount of $ 10,000,000 for each claim on the ground that defendants acted with "reckless and heedless disregard" for the public by failing to abide by federal safety regulations. See Amended Complaint at PP 22, 28.

 Defendants now move, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, for partial summary judgment dismissing Wang's punitive damage claims. Defendants argue that Pennsylvania state law applies to Wang's claims. They argue further that (1) under that state's law, plaintiffs are not entitled to punitive damages in a wrongful death action; and (2) with respect to Wang's request for punitive damages based on the pain and suffering claim, their conduct was not sufficiently outrageous to warrant such damages as a matter of law. In opposition, Wang contends that (1) New York law, which permits punitive damages in wrongful death actions, applies to her claims; (2) alternatively, punitive damages are permitted in wrongful death ...


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