Thursday, August 23, 2018

Several Notable Decisions by Pennsylvania Superior Court on Civil Litigation Issues Handed Down in a Single Case

In the case of Hammons v. Ethicon, Inc., 2018 Pa. Super. 172 (Pa. Super. June 19, 2018 Ott, J., Stabile, J., Stevens, P.J.E.) (Op. by Stabile, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court reviewed several civil litigation issues of interest in this products liability case.   In the end, the court affirmed a judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs on appeal.  

With regards to issues pertaining to personal jurisdiction over Defendants, the court reaffirmed the rule that a Defendant challenging personal jurisdiction has the burden of supporting that objection.   See Op. at 15.

The court provided a detailed summary of the current status of the law pertaining to personal jurisdiction based upon a review of several notable United States Supreme Court Opinions, the most recent of which was in the case of Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Court of California, San Francisco County, __ U.S. __, 137 S. Ct. 1773 (2107).   Concisely, after the Bristol-Myers case, the following three (3) elements must be met in order for specific personal jurisdiction to lie over a defendant:  

First, a defendant must have purposefully conducted activities within the forum state, or must have purposefully directed its conduct towards the forum state.  

Second, the plaintiff’s claim must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state or directed towards to the forum state.  

Third, overall, a finding of jurisdiction over the defendant must be fair and reasonable.  

Here, the court found that the Defendant’s suit-related contacts justified jurisdiction in that the particular Defendant supervised the design and manufacturing process of its product in Pennsylvania in collaboration with a Pennsylvania company.  The court additionally noted that this particular Defendant also worked with a Pennsylvania physician in developing and marketing the product which, in this case, was a medical product used to treat prolapsed pelvic organs.  

In another notable decision on a separate issue, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled evidence of spoliation may be admitted at trial under principles of relevance and prejudice even where a spoliation-related sanction is not issued by the court.   See Op. at 56.  The court found that evidence of document destruction in this case was highly relevant under the case presented and that the probative value of that evidence outweighed any prejudice to the Defendant.  

In this decision, the court also addressed the Defendant’s Motion for Remittitur, seeking a reduction of the substantial verdict.  Applying Pennsylvania law, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s decision denying the Defendant’s Motion in this regard.

The Superior Court reaffirmed that, under Pennsylvania law, the decision to grant a remittitur depends on whether the award of compensatory damages lies beyond “the uncertain limits of fair and reasonable compensation” or whether the verdict “so shocks the conscience as to suggest that the jury was influenced by partiality, prejudice, mistake, or corruption.”  See Op. at 69.  

The Pennsylvania Superior Court in this Hammons case also reaffirmed the law of Pennsylvania that Rule 238, pertaining to the imposition of delay damages, limits the calculation of the delay damages to compensatory damages.   The court stated that, even after amendments to Rule 238 from back in 1988, Rule 238 delay damages are not to be applied to the punitive damages aspects of a jury’s verdict.  

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

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

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