Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lackawanna County Judge James A. Gibbons May Be First Trial Court Judge to Apply Revised Pennsylvania Products Liability Law

In what may be one of the first trial court opinions to apply the new products liability analysis enunciated in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recent decision in Tincher v. Omega Flex, Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Judge James A. Gibbons rejected a Defendant's Motion for a New Trial and/or a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict in the case of Cancelleri v. Ford Motor Co., No. 2011-CV-6060 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Jan. 9, 2015 Gibbons, J.).

The Cancelleri case involved claims that the airbag/restraint system in the Plaintiff's vehicle was defectively designed in that the driver's side airbag failed to deploy in the subject car accident. 

Ford primarily argued that it was entitled to a Judgment NOV because there was not enough evidence to sustain the Plaintiff's claims pertaining to crashworthiness and malfunction theories.  In addition to a myriad of other issues raised, the defense also asserted that the court failed to apply the Restatement (Third) of Torts analysis for products liability matters in Pennsylvania.

As Tort Talkers may recall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in its recent November 19, 2014 Opinion in Tincher, rejected the Restatement (Third) analysis and advocated a continued use of the Restatement (Second) of Torts standard.  For the Tort Talk blog post on the Tincher decision, along with a link to the Supreme Court's 128 page Opinion, click HERE.

In his Opinion in Cancelleri, Judge Gibbons conducted a detailed analysis of the meandering Tincher decision and outlined a concise recitation of the new burden of proof required to be met by plaintiffs in products cases.  Applying this analysis to the trial record led Judge Gibbons to deny the post-trial motions filed by the defense.  The court also granted the Plaintiff's motion for delay damages, which brought the total award in favor of the Plaintiffs to an amount in excess of $6.2 million dollars.

An appeal is anticipated in the Cancelleri v. Ford Motor Co. case.  This raises the chance that the issue of the Restatement (Second) vs. (Third) analysis may be revisited by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and perhaps not until after the time two new Justices would have been elected to the Commonwealth's highest Court.

Anyone wishing to read Judge Gibbons' 60 paged Opinion in Cancelleri v. Ford Motor Co. may click this LINK.

The prevailing plaintiff's attorneys were James F. Mundy and Bruce S. Zero of the Scranton, PA office of Powell Law.

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