Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Pennsylvania Superior Court Rules Jury Cannot Award Damages That Were Neither Sought or Proven

In the case of Stapas v. Giant Eagle, Inc., 2016 Pa. Super. 303 (Pa. Super. Dec. 23, 2016 Stabile, J. Bowes, J. Musmanno, J.) (Op. by Stabile, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed, in part, the trial court’s denial of post-trial motions in a personal injury matter arising out of a shooting incident. 

Of note was the fact that the court found that the amount of $1.3 million dollars awarded the Plaintiff for future income loss was not supported by the evidence and was not even sought by the Plaintiff.  As such, the court ruled, under the rationale that a verdict must bear a reasonable resemblance to the proven damages, that a jury cannot award damages that were neither sought nor proven.   In so ruling, the court also stated that, even though the jury was not required to itemize its award of damages, it chose to do so, and those findings revealed the unsupported award.   

This decision is also notable in the Superior Court’s decision that the brief mention of the Plaintiff’s lack of health insurance did not require a new trial.  The court noted that this testimony was immediately stricken by the trial court.   The Superior Court also reasoned that the prohibition against the mentioning of insurance in civil litigation matters under Pa. R.E. 411 generally applies to a Defendant’s possession of liability insurance.  

The Stapas court also addressed the assumption of risk defense raised in this matter and stated that getting into a fight should not be considered the assumption of the risk of being shot.   The court emphasized that, in the case before it, the Plaintiff did not know that his attacker was armed.  

 The court returned the case to the trial court for a new trial on damages only.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm for bringing this case to my attention.    

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