Can a cesarean section that was allegedly forced due to a car accident 12 days before it was scheduled be considered a serious bodily injury?
According to Monroe County Court of Common Pleas Judge David J. Williamson, that is a question best left to a jury.
In January, Williamson denied a summary judgment motion in Haubrich v. Staniszewski, in which the defendants argued that the alleged injury did not constitute a serious injury under Pennsylvania’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law. The plaintiff had argued that the inability to carry the unborn child to the scheduled delivery date was an impairment of a body function.
“We cannot say that reasonable minds would not differ in determining if this is a serious injury or not. Considering that a pregnancy and an emergency C-section are not matters to be taken lightly, a jury could find this was a serious injury,” Williamson said. “As reasonable minds could differ on the issue of whether a serious injury has been sustained, this matter is best left to a jury to make a factual determination.”
Scranton-based defense attorney Daniel E. Cummins, of Foley, Comerford & Cummins, said that while the plaintiff appeared to be making a novel argument, Williamson’s holding was not surprising.
“In a novel factual situation like that, a judge might be more inclined to let a jury rule on it instead of putting the plaintiff out of court before the case,” he said. The defendants “will still be able to argue it at trial. Maybe they’ll have more success there.”
The ruling, according to attorney James C. Haggerty of Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, reinforced the notion that there is no temporal requirement regarding serious injury.
“This is the application of established law to an unusual set of circumstances,” Haggerty said, adding that the inability to bring a child to normal term could be considered an impairment of a bodily function. “The fact that it’s 12 days, does that matter? That’s for a jury to decide.”
According to Williamson, the parties were involved in a motor vehicle accident April 13, 2011. Plaintiff Jillian Haubrich was 37 weeks and two days pregnant, Williamson said. She had been scheduled to undergo a C-section on April 25, 2001. However, she had to undergo an emergency C-section at Pocono Medical Center on the day of the accident, allegedly as a result of the crash.
Haubrich then sued defendant driver Diane Staniszewki, alleging that the emergency C-section constituted bodily injury. She also claimed to suffer neck and lower back injuries as a result of the accident.
According to Williamson, Haubrich claimed that the emergency C-section “impaired her ability to carry her unborn child to the scheduled delivery date.” She further contended that this was an injury that crossed the tort threshold for injuries, as it caused serious impairment of a body function, which is covered under the MVFRL, 75 Pa. C.S.A. Section 1702(d).
Staniszewki argued that having a C-section 12 days before an already scheduled C-section does not impair a body function. She further argued the injuries did not constitute any impairment, much less a serious impairment that would allow for recovery.
The defendants filed for summary judgment, asking the court to block the case because the alleged injuries did not cross the impairment or serious injury threshold as required by Section 1702(d).
Williamson looked to the 2013 Superior Court decision in Cadena v. Latch, in which the court outlined its analysis framework for determining whether a person has suffered a “serious injury” under Section 1705(d).
The decision required a court to consider the extent of the impairment, the length of time the impairment lasted, the treatment required to correct the impairment and any other relevant factors. The decision further asked the court to consider how the injuries affected a particular body function, and not to just consider the injuries themselves.
“Taking into account the pleadings, depositions, exhibits and admissions of both parties, this court believes there to be a genuine issue of material fact in this case, and therefore agrees with the position asserted by plaintiff,” Williamson said. “In applying the above principals of law to the instant cause of action, this court believes there to be a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the ability to carry an unborn child to a scheduled delivery date constitutes a serious impairment of a body function.”
Kevin M. Conaboy of Abrahamsen, Conaboy & Abrahamsen, who represents Haubrich, did not return a call for comment.
Staniszewski’s attorney, David E. Heisler of Cipriani & Werner, did not return a call for comment.
(Copies of the eight-page opinion in Haubrich v. Staniszewski, PICS No. 14-0160, are available from Pennsylvania Law Weekly. Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information.) •