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Zielinski v. Philadelphia Piers, Inc.

Citation. 139 F. Supp. 408 (E.D. Pa. 1956)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff sues the wrong defendant but is unaware that he is suing the wrong defendant because the defendant makes inaccurate statements that do not alert the plaintiff to this error.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A general denial is ineffective if some of the claims denied are true and not at issue.

Facts.

Plaintiff Zielinski was injured by Sandy Johnson who was operating a forklift owned by Defendant Philadelphia Piers. Plaintiff alleges that Johnson was an employee and agent of Philadelphia Piers at the time of the incident. Sandy Johnson worked for Philadelphia Piers for 15 years but was not aware that the company had transferred ownership of the operation, and that he had in fact been working for Carload Contractors, Inc. Johnson also mistakenly testified that he worked for Philadelphia Piers during depositions attended by representatives from Philadelphia Piers who made a general denial of the allegations in Plaintiff Zielinski’s complaint, but did not clarify that ownership had been transferred to Carload. Philadelphia Piers, Carload, and the insurance company that provided insurance to both companies were aware of Plaintiff Zielinski’s error in suing Philadelphia Piers instead of Carload. Plaintiff Zielinski did not realize his mistake until the pretrial conference.

Issue.

Should a defendant be estopped from denying alleged facts in a complaint if he has made an ineffective denial of those facts and knowingly allows a plaintiff to continue to rely on them?

Held.

Yes, a defendant that knowingly makes inaccurate statements may be estopped from denying those statements at trial. Philadelphia Piers is estopped from denying the agency of Sandy Johnson and the company’s ownership of the forklift. The matter should be allowed to proceed against the proper party.

Discussion.

1. A general denial is ineffective if some of the claims denied are true and not at issue.
2. Philadelphia Piers should have made specific denials of the parts of the complaint it knew to be false and admitted to the parts that were true.
3. A specific denial would have alerted Plaintiff Zielinski to his mistake in suing the wrong defendant.
4. Under Pennsylvania law, when an ineffective answer has been filed and the time allowed to amend the answer has passed, a party will be estopped from denying the allegation and any improper allegations will be taken as true.
5.Philadelphia Piers cannot knowingly advance a mistake by omission.
6.If Plaintiff Zielinski’s complaint was dismissed he would be deprived of the right to bring his claim because the statute of limitations has run on his ability to sue Carload.
7.The matter should be allowed to proceed against the proper party.


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