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Yurecka v. Zappala

December 28, 2006

MARIE M. YURECKA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM J. YURECKA, DECEASED, AND AS NATURAL GUARDIAN OF M.M. YURECKA AND K.W. YURECKA, MINORS; BRIAN R. YURECKA, APPELLANTS
v.
JEFFREY ZAPPALA; ARLENE PICCIONI-ZAPPALA, DEFENDANTS-/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS
v.
RONALD M. ROCKWELL; PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION; RONALD C. ROCKWELL, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (District Court No. 04-cv-01352) District Judge: Honorable Edwin M. Kosik.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Restani, Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued: September 27, 2006

Before: MCKEE and AMBRO, Circuit Judges, and RESTANI,*fn1 Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Plaintiffs-Appellants Marie Yurecka, individually and as administratrix of the Estate of William Yurecka, and as natural guardian of M.M. Yurecka and K.W. Yurecka, and Brian Yurecka appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. The District Court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees Jeffrey Zappala and Arlene PiccioniZappala on the ground that the rescue doctrine does not support the Yureckas' claims arising from two automobile accidents on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the second of which caused the death of William Yurecka. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether the rescue was ongoing at the time of the second accident, and reverse and remand for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

This action arises from two automobile accidents that occurred on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the evening of May 12, 2002. The following facts are undisputed.

While driving north on the Turnpike in heavy rainfall, William Yurecka, his wife Marie Yurecka, and their three children saw a white Toyota 4-Runner pass their vehicle and travel out of sight. The Toyota 4-Runner was driven by Jeffrey Zappala, and seated in the front passenger seat was his wife, Arlene Piccioni-Zappala. The Yureckas later noticed the Toyota 4-Runner lying overturned off of the right side of the highway. They decided to stop to provide assistance, as both Mr. and Mrs. Yurecka were trained and certified in first aid by the Red Cross. The Yureckas pulled to the side of the highway, parked their minivan with the "hazard lights" flashing, exited the vehicle and walked downhill toward the 4-Runner.

As the Yureckas approached the Zappalas' vehicle, which was visibly totaled as a result of the accident, the Zappalas managed to climb out through the rear of their vehicle.*fn2 Although the Zappalas said that they were "all right" and appeared externally uninjured, they followed the Yureckas to their minivan, where the Yureckas made room for them to sit under the minivan's rear hatch to provide shelter from the heavy rain. Mr. Yurecka walked to a nearby emergency call box to phone the police and then returned to the minivan to assist the Zappalas. The Yureckas' three children remained inside the passenger compartment.

While the Zappalas sat beneath the rear hatch of the Yureckas' minivan, the Yureckas verbally comforted them, provided them with warm blankets and a pair of shoes for Mrs. Zappala, who had lost hers in the accident, and stayed with them to monitor for possible shock and other injuries while the Zappalas waited for police to arrive.

Approximately seventeen minutes later, while the Zappalas waited inside the Yureckas' minivan, a third vehicle, driven by Third-Party Defendant Robert Rockwell, lost control on the wet highway. His vehicle swerved and hydroplaned into the Yureckas' parked vehicle. Mr. Yurecka, who had been standing near the rear corner of the minivan, was hit by the Rockwell vehicle and dragged north into the left lane of the Turnpike. The police arrived after Mr. Yurecka was hit, and he was transported to the hospital, where he died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries from the collision.

In May 2004, the Yureckas brought an action for wrongful death, survival claims, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the Zappalas in the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, Court of Common Pleas. The case was then removed to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. The Yureckas' claims were based on the Zappalas' negligence in causing the first accident, which prompted the Yureckas to come to their rescue, placing Mr. Yurecka in the way of harm that ultimately led to his death. The Zappalas argued that any rescue was completed at the time of the subsequent accident, and that the rescue doctrine no longer applied.

The District Court agreed, granting a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the rescue doctrine did not apply at the time of the second accident.*fn3 The Court also found, however, that the Zappalas were driving at an unsafe speed at the time of their accident, and that the Yureckas had been rescuers at the time they stopped to provide assistance. Yurecka v. Zappala, No. 04-CV-1352, slip op. at 3, 12 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 20, 2005). On April 20, 2005, the District ...


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