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Pennfield Corp. v. Meadow Valley Elec. - 413 Pa. Super. 187, 604 A.2d 1082 (1992)

Rule:

It is an essential element in market share liability cases that the possible tortfeasors are all perpetrators of negligent conduct. Under the market share liability theory, defendants who cannot prove their innocence are liable to the plaintiff for an amount proportionate to the defendant's respective market share of all sales.

Facts:

1,537 swine suffocated when an electrically operated ventilation system in their abode failed. The swine were housed at Mountain View Farms, Berks County, Pennsylvania, and were owned by plaintiff Pennfield Corporation. Pennfield  brought an action against appellee York Electrical Supply Co. (dba YESCO), which allegedly performed repair and maintenance services on the electrical equipment at Mountain View Farms. The Pennfield complaint alleged that a defective electrical system caused the ventilation system to fail, thus resulting in the suffocation of the swine. Appellant Meadow Valley Electric, Inc. then filed a complaint to join numerous additional defendants, including York, alleging that the ventilation system failed and that the cause of the failure was defective electrical cable purchased between two distributors, claiming the distributors were liable to the plaintiff on theories of strict liability, negligence, and breach of warranties. York responded to appellant's joinder complaint with preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer. The trial court sustained the preliminary objections. Appellant Meadow Valley sought review, arguing a theory of alternative liability as a general exception to what it calls the "identification rule."

Issue:

Are the distributors required to disprove their culpability?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

On appeal, the Court affirmed the trial court's order sustaining appellee York's preliminary objections, on the ground that appellant Meadow View's complaint failed to establish alternative liability on York's part. Absent allegations of tortious conduct by York and the other distributor (Tri-State), neither was alternatively liable. It was easy to discern from Meadow View's complaint that it was not sure that a defective cable even caused the suffocation. Thus, Meadow View cannot with certainty state that York/YESCO and distributor Tri-State are among the tortfeasors. Meadow View asked that the Court place the burden on potentially innocent defendants to disprove their culpability, and in the event they cannot, to apportion liability between them. The Court emphatically rejected this approach. 

The Court rejected Meadow View's theory of market share liability. It is an essential element in market share liability cases that the possible tortfeasors are all perpetrators of negligent conduct. Even if Meadow View had alleged the cables were identical, it would still be incumbent on it to prove which defendant was responsible for the defective cable because either York/YESCO or Tri-State is an innocent party. The Court explained that the market share liability theory was created to deal with the horrific problem caused by DES cases. Thus, the theory is a very narrow exception to the general rule that a plaintiff must show causation.

However, the trial court erred when it did not allow the complaint to be amended. The test for surviving a demurrer is whether it is clear and free from doubt from the facts pleaded that the pleader will be unable to prove facts legally sufficient to establish his right of relief. It was apparent from appellant Meadow Valley's complaint that the genesis of legally sufficient facts is present: Meadow Valley alleged that York or the other distributor sold it a cable, the cable was defective, and the cable's defect caused economic damage to Meadow Valley's property. These alleged facts are the seeds for several causes of action. Accordingly, the Court remanded so that appellant Meadow Valley could amend its complaint to state a viable cause of action.

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