Willman & Silvaggio, LLP Obtains a Court ruling for the Elks Which Upholds an Important Common Law Principle  

In a Per Curiam Order dated April 16, 2010, the Pa. Supreme Court denied an appeal by Richard Bisher, a member of the Scottsdale Elks Lodge No. 777, who sought recovery for injuries arising from a bizarre state of facts. On December 20, 2002, Mr. Bisher was assaulted in his home by another Elks Lodge member, Frank Moore, who had been drinking at the Elks Lodge the night before. Following the assault, Mr. Moore took his own life.
Mr. Bisher subsequently commenced a lawsuit against both the Elks Lodge and the Estate of Frank Moore for his injuries. Because Mr. Bisher was a member of the Elks Lodge, which was an unincorporated association, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Elks Lodge. This ruling was based upon the Common Law principle that states that members of an unincorporated association may not recover from the association in tort, because the negligence of a member, including the association and its officers, is imputed to all of the members.
Despite the fact that Mr. Bisher was not engaged in a function associated with the lodge, and, in fact, was not even on lodge property when the assault occurred, the court nevertheless found that as a member of an unincorporated association he could not recover for his injuries in a tort lawsuit from that association. Following this ruling by the lower court, Mr. Bisher appealed to the Pa. Superior Court which upheld the summary judgment verdict in favor of the Elks Lodge. Prior to that appeal, Mr. Bisher had obtained a $900,000 verdict against the Estate of Frank Moore.
Following the Pa. Superior Court’s ruling, Mr. Bisher sought review by the Pa. Supreme Court. The Pa. Supreme Court, in turn, denied Mr. Bisher’s Petition for Review, thereby finalizing the lower court’s award of summary judgment in favor of the Elks Lodge.
This verdict is important for all unincorporated associations throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania such as churches, fraternal groups and volunteer fire departments. The court refused Mr. Bisher’s plea to change the law holding that if such a determination is to be made, it must be made through the legislature.