Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Several Notable Civil Litigation Trial Issues Addressed By Pennsylvania Superior Court

The Pennsylvania Superior Court addressed several notable recurring civil litigation issues in the case of Nazarak v. Waite, 2019 Pa. Super. 235 (Pa. Super. Aug. 2, 2019 Lazarus, J., Murray, J., Stevens, P.J.E.)(Op. by Stevens, P.J.E.).

The case arose out of a rear end motor vehicle accident.  The Plaintiff was driving a commercial vehicle and was on the job at the time of the accident.  As such, he received worker's compensation benefits in the form of medical payments and indemnity payments.

The case proceeded through discovery and a trial at which a verdict was entered in favor of the Plaintiff.  On appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court's denial of the Defendant's post-trial motions.

Among the notable rulings by the Pennsylvania Superior Court were the following:

-Issues regarding the admission of the worker's compensation lien into evidence.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court's ruling to allow the Plaintiff to present to the jury the amount of the worker's compensation lien. 

 The Superior Court rejected the defense contention that the admission of the evidence pertaining to the lien violated the collateral source doctrine.  The Court noted that the reasoning behind the doctrine was not implicated in this case because it was the Plaintiff who was introducing the evidence of a prior recovery and not the Defendant.

The Nazarak Court also rejected the defense argument that the admission of the lien amount into evidence and the allowance of a recovery in that regard amounted to a double recovery for the Plaintiff.  The Court confirmed that the Plaintiff was required to pay back the lien amount to the worker's compensation carrier and that, as such, there was no double recovery by the Plaintiff.

The Superior Court also rejected the defense contention that, by allowing into evidence the fact that the Plaintiff had been paid such medical and wage loss benefits, the trial court usurped the function of the jury to decide the issue of causation because such evidence suggested that the Plaintiff's injuries were from the accident.  This contention by the defense was rejected by the Superior Court in this Narzarak decision.

-The Court also rejected the defense argument that it was error for the trial court to have allowed the introduction of the compromise and release document from the worker's compensation case into evidence at trial.  The defense had asserted that this was impermissible evidence of a settlement agreement in violation of 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 6141.  The Superior Court noted that the Defendants in this case were not parties to that separate worker's compensation settlement agreement and, as such, Section 6141 was not directly implicated.  However, the Superior Court went onto note that while the admission of this evidence may have violated the letter of the law in Section 6141, such an error was not a reversible error where the evidence was only used by the Plaintiff to establish the amount of the lien and not with respect to proving any liability issues (liability was admitted by the defense at trial).

-Issues regarding the presentation of expert testimony.

The Court in Nazarak rejected the defense contention that the Plaintiff's vocational expert was allowed to testify beyond the fair scope of her report.  After reviewing the expert's testimony as compared to the expert's report, the Court rejected this argument.

The Court also rejected the argument by the defense that the Plaintiff had violated the hearsay rule by utilizing the Plaintiff's testifying orthopedic expert report to comment upon the report and opinions of a neuro-radiologist expert who was not called to testify.  The defense contended that this strategy violated the rule of law that prohibited one expert from acting as a mere conduit for the opinion of another expert.  The Nazarak court reviewed the testimony of the testifying orthopedic expert and found that that expert had not merely acted as a conduit for the other expert's opinion, but rather had permissibly referred to and relied upon that other expert's opinions to formulate the orthopedic expert's own opinions on the case presented.

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK.

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