Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ruzzi v. Butler Petroleum Company case brief

Ruzzi v. Butler Petroleum Company case brief summary
588 A.2d 1 (1991)

Defendant petroleum company and cross-defendant contractor filed cross-petitions for review of the judgment of the Superior Court (Pennsylvania) which awarded plaintiffs, victim and his wife, judgment in a personal injury action. Defendant petroleum company sought a determination of whether an indemnity clause was legally binding, and cross-defendant contractor contended the trial court erred in admitting testimony of an expert witness.

Plaintiff victim was injured when a gasoline tank owned by defendant petroleum company, and transported by defendant transporter exploded. Plaintiff brought suit against defendant petroleum company seeking damages. Defendant petroleum company in turn, filed a complaint joining cross-defendant transporter, and cross-defendant contractor as additional defendants. In a separate action plaintiff brought suit against defendant contractor. In a third action, plaintiff petroleum company brought suit against defendant contractor based on an indemnification agreement between the parties.

All actions were consolidated for trial and plaintiff was awarded a judgment assigning 84% of the negligence to defendant petroleum company and 16% to defendant transporter.


  • The losing defendants sought review. 
  • The court held inter alia, that a contract of indemnity against personal injuries should not be construed to indemnify against the negligence of the indemnitee, unless it was so expressed in unequivocal terms. 
  • Because the indemnification agreement was written in general terms, the court held that the parties did not intend to indemnify for acts of the indemnitee's negligence.

The court affirmed (except as to delay damages) the lower court judgment awarding plaintiffs, victim and his wife, judgment in a personal injury action. The court held inter alia, that the indemnity clause in defendant petroleum company's contract with cross-defendant contractor was not legally binding because no inference from words of general import could establish such indemnification.

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