(CN) - A dealership may be liable for punitive damages after one of its salesmen crashed a minivan with no brakes into another car, seriously injuring the driver, a federal judge ruled.
Linda Drozd was driving south in her husband's 2007 Nissan Sentra on March 26, 2013, when a northbound 2003 Toyota Sienna minivan owned by Atlantic Motor Team "suddenly and without warning" veered into her lane. The collision in Scranton, Pa., severely injured Drozd.
The terms "high idle" and "no brake" were painted on the driver door window of the minivan, according to Linda and Michael Drozd.
They sued minivan driver Thomas Variale and his boss, John Padron dba Atlantic Motor Team, claiming the defendants knew that the vehicle was "unfit for safe operation on a public highway."
The complaint asserts negligent, reckless and wanton conduct against all defendants and specifically against Padron for entrusting the minivan to Variale and for failing to properly train Variale and investigate his driving abilities and record.
Michael Drozd also asserts a claim for loss of consortium, and he and his wife seek actual and punitive damages on all counts.
The defendants moved to dismiss all but the loss of consortium claim, saying the complaint fails to show "a conscious disregard of a risk known to either of the defendants, or so obvious that they must be taken to have been aware of it, and so great as to make it highly probable that harm would follow."
Variale and Padron further argued that the words painted on the van's window "cannot support a claim for punitive damages since there is no allegation that an awareness of a 'high idle' or 'no brakes' was a cause or contributed to the accident."
U.S. District Judge Richard Conaboy denied the motion Tuesday, finding that the use of the words "wanton," "reckless," and "willful" warrant punitive damages based on the Supreme Court's rulings in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly
and Ashcroft v. Iqbal.
"We conclude defendants have failed to meet their burden of showing that no claim has been presented," Conaboy wrote. "The facts pleaded indicate that plaintiffs have presented a plausible claim for punitive damages as required by Twombly
. While discovery may show a lack of a causal connection between the 'no brake' warning and the collision, such a determination would be premature at this stage of the proceedings. Therefore, defendants' motion is properly denied."