In February 2001 James Ulrich, 26, was injured in a automobile accident while riding as a passenger on an icy Bucks County roadway, according to his attorney, Richard M. Jurewicz.
Gabriel Mascio, Ulrich’s roommate, was driving a vehicle owned by Christopher Webster’s family business, Process Application Limited Inc. (Mascio, Webster, and the business were named as defendants.)
Ulrich and his friends had stopped at two bars in New Hope, PA, and Mascio had been the designated driver, according to Jurewicz.
According to Jurewicz, shortly after midnight, while traveling southbound on Taylorsville Road in Washington Crossing, PA, Mascio lost control of the vehicle when he hit a patch of black ice near the base of a driveway. When Mascio attempted to regain control of the vehicle, he entered into the northbound lane, striking an oncoming vehicle. The force of the impact caused Ulrich, who was not wearing a seatbelt, to be ejected from the car into a ravine off the southbound lane of travel, where he initially lay unconscious.
Ulrich was hospitalized for seven days at Lower Bucks Hospital. Initially, he had double vision (which resolved itself) and he also claimed to have a slight hearing impairment in his right ear, which was also resolved.
Within nine weeks of the accident, Ulrich returned to work without any medical restrictions or limitations. His loss was $2,907 and the total billed medical expenses were $34,539, Jurewicz said, but no loss of earning capacity was claimed.
Ulrich argued that there were several causes of the accident.
1. He contended that even though Mascio was not legally intoxicated at the time, he did admit to consuming two beers. Consumption of these two beers affected Mascio’s ability to perceive and react to black ice, he argued.
2. Secondly, Ulrich claimed that the area of the roadway where the black ice had formed was adjacent to the mouth of a driveway. He theorized that surface water ran down the steep driveway and puddle (grammar) at its base where it froze when the temperature dropped. The property owners’ failure to install a grated drain at the base of the driveway tendered them liable, the plaintiff claimed.
3. Ulrich finally claimed that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was liable in the design of the roadway. He claimed the road design encouraged water to collect at the base of the driveway.
According to Jurewicz, Mascio contended that the Sudden Emergency Doctrine applied since no one in the vehicle saw the black ice and there had been no precipitation on the night of the accident. The property owners claimed that they had no prior notice, either actual or constructive, of any water accumulating at the base of their driveway.
The defense also claimed that after two months of treatment, Ulrich did not have any further medical treatment or evaluations and was no longer under a doctor’s care for his injuries.
The case settled for $590,000, with Webster and Process Application. “The balance of the settlement was paid by the property owners and PennDOT,” Jurewicz said.