Thursday, January 7, 2016

Superior Court Affirms Denial of Post-Trial Motions by Defense in Products Liability Case

Tort Talkers may recall that, in what may be one of the first trial court opinions to apply the new products liability analysis enunciated in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court 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.).

Judge James A. Gibbons
Lackawanna County
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.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in prior Opinion in Tincher, had rejected the Restatement (Third) analysis and advocated a continued use of the Restatement (Second) of Torts standard. 

After a $5.9 million dollar verdict was handed down by the jury in favor of the Plaintiff, the defense filed the post-trial motions at issue.  As noted, Judge Gibbons relied upon the Tincher decision in denying the Defendant's post-trial motions.

UPDATE:  In a January 7, 2016 "Non-precedential" Opinion in the same case of Cancelleri v. Ford Motor Co., No. 267 MDA 2015 (Pa.Super. Jan. 7, 2016 Panella, J., Lazarus, J. and Platt, J.)(mem. op. by Lazarus, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the Judge Gibbons' trial court decision and, in doing so, noted the Tincher mandate that the Restatement (Second) of Torts be applied in products cases.

As this case was listed as a non-precedential decision, a detailed summary of the same is not provided.  However, if you wish to read the Opinion, you may click this LINK.

It now remains to be seen whether this case will proceed up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow that Court, and its three new Justices, to revisit the debate on whether the Restatement (Second) of Torts or the Restatement (Third) of Torts should be applied in Pennsylvania Products Liability matters.

FURTHER UPDATE:  This case settled after the Superior Court's decision and prior to any effort to take it up the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

I send thanks to Attorney Bruce Zero of the Scranton law firm of Powell Law for bringing this decision to my attention.

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