Superior Court Outlines Standard of Review for Remittitur/New Trial Motions

Plaintiff sustained an injury from a motor vehicle accident that resulted in persistent knee pains and discomfort. The Montgomery County jury returned a verdict of $1 million. Defendant filed a motion for post-trial relief seeking a new trial, and alternatively, a remitter. The trial court denied defendant’s motions. On appeal, the defendant did not challenge the refusal to order a remittitur, but asked for a new trial on the allegedly excessive verdict.

In Carassai v. Echelmeier, 2015 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 3805, the Superior Court offered the following insight: large verdicts are not necessarily excessive verdicts. The evidence supported the conclusion that plaintiff’s injuries to her knees were permanent and progressive, that she experiences constant pain, and that she cannot perform the work as an auto mechanic for which she trained. Moreover, the Superior Court found that the verdict was not so excessive as to shock the conscience and did not suggest that the jury was influenced by partiality, prejudice, mistake, or corruption.

Duty Regarding U-Turns

Defendant was operating a taxi (on his first day) and made a U-turn on a two-lane roadway when he realized the destination of his passenger was on the other side of the road. While attempting the U-turn, the automobile following defendant struck defendant’s vehicle and injured the plaintiff passenger.

Plaintiff testified that defendant abruptly initiated the U-turn. Defendant testified that he pulled over to the right curb, checked his mirrors, and used his turn signal. The driver of the striking vehicle testified that defendant pulled out among the cars that were parked along the curb on the right, and could not stop before striking the vehicle.

Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that since it is uncontroverted that there were no cars coming from the other direction, he complied with Section 3332(a) of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code permitting U-turns only when “movement can be made in safety without interfering with other traffic.”

In his opinion in Williams v. Beavers, Lackawanna County No. 13 CV 1825, Judge Nealon articulated that motorists are not required to anticipate that another driver will make a U-turn into their path of travel. Moreover, Judge Nealon found that precedent interpreted Section 3332(a) to encompass traffic approaching in both directions. As such, a material issue of fact exists regarding the circumstances of the attempted U-turn, and whether defendant complied with the statute.

Judge Fox Ordered Sanctions for Failure to Deliver Settlement Funds

In Corson v. Croce, 2015 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 227, the parties settled plaintiff’s personal injury claims in September 2014 for $50,000.00. On December 3rd, defense counsel advised plaintiff’s counsel that the insurer had sent the check on November 26th. After subsequent requests for updates went unanswered by defense counsel, plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions on January 6th. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 229.1(c), the defendant shall deliver the settlement funds to the attorney for plaintiff within twenty calendar days from receipt of an executed release.

On January 8th, defense counsel advised plaintiff’s counsel that the delay was a combination of ensuring Medicare compliance and the departure of the adjustor who worked on the file. In addition, defense counsel referenced that Rule 229.1 sanctions were waived in the release. The following day the check was delivered.

Judge Fox found that sanctions were proper because defendant misrepresented that the settlement funds had been mailed on November 26th, but were not received until January 9th.   Put simply, the defendant failed to present a reasonable excuse for the delay. In addition, the Court found that any waiver of the right to request sanctions under the Philadelphia Local Rules would be unenforceable, since a waiver would directly countermand the very purpose of the rule.

Judge Fox imposed interest at 4.25% from December 7, 2014 to January 9, 2015, and $500 in attorney’s fees.

Car Jumping Five-Inch Concrete Wheelstop in Parking Lot was Foreseeable Harm

In Truax v. Roulhac, 2015 Pa. Super. 217, the Superior Court addressed whether a car jumping a five-inch concrete wheelstop in a parking lot was foreseeable harm.

Plaintiff was on the sidewalk outside a restaurant in a strip mall. Defendant Roulhac drove her minivan into a head-on parking space perpendicular to the restaurant, jumped the five-inch concrete wheel stop, and pinned plaintiff to the building. Roulhac was arrested and charged with DUI. She was released on bail and fled, and plaintiff was unable to serve her with process.

In addition to negligence claims against the driver, plaintiff filed premises liability actions against the owner and property manager of the strip mall. Those defendants filed for summary judgment on the basis that the harm was not foreseeable since they were unaware of any similar incidents of cars jumping the wheel stops. The trial court granted summary judgment, and opined, inter alia, that defendants had complied with all applicable building codes and zoning ordinances.

The Superior Court en banc found that the defendants owed plaintiff a duty owed to any business invitee, namely that they would take reasonable precaution against harmful third party conduct that might be reasonably anticipated. Specifically, if it was reasonably foreseeable that a vehicle operated by a third party would encroach on the sidewalk, then defendants had a duty to exercise reasonable care to protect its invitees. The Court found that plaintiff introduced sufficient expert evidence from which a jury could conclude that the harm was foreseeable (e.g. taller barriers used elsewhere in the mall). As such, the trial court erred in holding that curb-jumping is per se unforeseeable.

Trial Court Does Not Disturb $55 Million Verdict Against Honda

In Martinez v. American Honda, 2015 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 276, Judge Robins New presided over a crash worthiness trial.

Plaintiff sustained serious injuries and was rendered a quadriplegic when he lost control of his Acura Integra. He brought suit against Honda alleging the seatbelt was defectively designed. The matter was tried by Stewart Eisenberg, Esquire before a jury in June 2014, and the jury awarded plaintiffs a total of $55,325,714. Honda raised 25 claims in its PaRAP 1925 statement.

The Court found that Philadelphia was an appropriate venue, as Honda maintains a registered office and regularly conducts business in Philadelphia (and that Honda failed to demonstrate that plaintiffs chose the forum to harass or inconvenience Honda).

Defendant argued that plaintiffs failed to sustain its burden that the seat belts were defectively designed and that there was an alternative, safer, practicable design. Plaintiff countered that the seatbelt design caused plaintiff’s head to strike the roof, and that an “all-belts-to seat” seatbelt system would have prevented the injuries.

Honda challenged the Court’s rulings concerning admissibility of portions of the testimony of plaintiff’s treating physicians. Judge Robins New recounted having reviewed extensive motions in limine by both sides, which motions were extensively briefed and argued. Having reviewed the transcripts line by line, certain portions were admissible and certain portions were inadmissible. The rulings were legally correct and a proper exercise of the Court’s discretion.

The Court was also not persuaded by Honda’s assertion that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s November 19, 2014 decision in Tincher v. Omega Flex compels a new trial.

The matter is presently on appeal to the Superior Court.

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