Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Trial on Damages Granted in Luzerne County Zero Verdict Case

In Coopey v. City of Wilkes-Barre, No. 5855 of 2009 (C.P. Luz. Co. July 31, 2014 Hughes, J.),  Judge Richard M. Hughes, III of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas issued a detailed Opinion addressing post-trial motions in an auto accident case in which the jury found both the Plaintiff and Defendant drivers negligent, but neither of the parties' negligence to be a substantial factor in causing the injuries alleged. 

Judge Richard M. Hughes, III
Luzerne County
After finding circumstantial evidence of uncontroverted evidence that the Plaintiff sustained some form of injuries as a result of the accident, Judge Hughes ordered a new trial limited to the issue of damages.

A distinguishing fact in this case, differentiating it from other zero verdict personal injury matters, was that the defense did not present expert medical testimony at trial, but rather contested the Plaintiff's claims of spinal injuries through cross-examination and argument focusing on the alleged pre-existing nature of the Plaintiff's spinal conditions.

The court noted in its Opinion that there was no substantial contesting by the defense of the Plaintff's separate claims of head, thumb, and knee injuries.

While Judge Hughes noted that an "agreement between medical experts as to the existence of an injury sufficient to constitute uncontroverted evidence, but not necessary.  In other words, circumstances may arise that present uncontroverted evidence of an injury without an agreement between parties' experts"  Op. at p. 6.

While acknowledging that a jury had a right to believe all, some, or none of the testimony offered by a witness, the court found that a jury could not reject testimony where the resultant verdict turns out to be "so disproportionate to uncontested evidence as to defy common sense and logic."  Op. at p. 10.

Here, the evidence presented by the Plaintiff on the head, thumb, and knee injuries were found by the court not to have been rebutted by the defense through a cross-examination of the Plaintiff's medical expert or otherwise.  Accordingly, the court ruled that the jury's defense verdict under the circumstances presented shocked one's sense of justice and that the Plaintiff was entitled to a new trial on damages.

I note that Judge Hughes is scheduled to speak at the upcoming TORT TALK EXPO 2014 set for September 26, 2014 at the Mohegan Sun Casino Hotel in Wilkes-Barre, PA.  Click HERE  for an Agenda and HERE for online Registration.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may contact me at dancummins@comcast.net.

I send thanks to Attorney John Aciukewicz of Wilkes-Barre, PA for bringing this case to my attention.

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