PA Woman Rejects Auto Companies' Attempts to Dismiss Claims

PA Woman Rejects Auto Companies' Attempts to Dismiss Claims

By Nicholas Malfitano, Pennsylvania Record
Feb. 1, 2023

Counsel for a Western Pennsylvania woman who suffered third-degree burns over 70% of her body in a motor vehicle crash more than two years ago has refuted denials of liability from two of the defendants named in the subsequent litigation.

Payton Renee Balogh of Homer City, PA, first filed suit in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on Sept. 20 versus Mazda Motor Corporation of Hiroshima, Japan, Mazda Motor of America, Inc. in Irvine, CA, Starter Cars in Altoona, PA, and Sutliff Auto Group of Harrisburg, PA.

The suit said Balogh was injured Oct. 20, 2020, when she was driving a 2010 Mazda 3 on Airport Road in White Township, PA, and lost control. The car left the road, struck a partly buried concrete stanchion and rolled over onto its passenger side. A fire erupted, spreading smoke and fire into the car, where Balogh was trapped. 

“Before anyone could come to her rescue, Balogh was catastrophically burned over most of her body,” the suit said.

The suit blamed “the unsafe, carelessly-designed and defective design of the Mazda and its failure to be crashworthy,” which allowed flammable liquids to leak and catch fire, and also trapped Balogh inside the burning car.

According to the suit, the defendants’ collective liability for the design and marketing of the vehicle directly caused Balogh’s severe burn injuries.

The suit said Balogh suffered second- and third-degree burns on her head, face, chest, arms, legs and back in the accident, and has since suffered respiratory failure, sepsis, tachycardia and the amputation of all the fingers on her right hand, along with other physical, emotional and functional complications, requiring ongoing hospitalizations and rehabilitation.

On Nov. 18, counsel for both parties agreed to dismiss the claims for punitive damages without prejudice.

Balogh agreed to dismiss her claims on the condition that after the completion of discovery, her counsel may file a motion to reassert claims of punitive damages, and defendants may file preliminary objections with respect to the amended complaint.

Counsel for Starter Cars filed an answer in the case Jan. 6. While the company admitted it sold a Mazda that Balogh was a co-signer on, it denied the remaining allegations. Starter Cars further explained a number of the allegations were directed to other defendants, and thus would not respond to them.

Sutliff Auto Group followed up with its own answer Jan. 11. It denied it sold the Mazda to Balogh and/or her mother, but rather, Sutliff argued it received the vehicle as a trade-in at its now-closed Buick-GMC-Cadillac dealership, and then sold the vehicle to Starter Cars.

On Jan. 24, Balogh’s counsel filed replies to both defendants’ answers.

“These paragraphs state conclusions of law to which no response is required,” the response said. 

The response said Balogh’s counsel demanded proof at trial of the allegations in the defendants’ answers. 

For counts of strict products liability, negligence, gross negligence, wanton disregard and punitive damages, Balogh is seeking damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest and legal fees. 

The plaintiff is represented by Larry Coben and Jo Ann Nieim of Anapol Weiss, in Scottsdale, AZ.

The defendants are represented by Gerard Cedrone and Jo E. Peifer of Lavin Cedrone Graver Boyd & DiSipio in Philadelphia, Philip J. Sbrolla and Christopher D. Gee of Post & Schell in Pittsburgh, plus Michael E. Lang of Margolis Edelstein, in Beaver, PA.

We thank Pennsylvania Record for reprint permission.

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