Appeals from the Court of Common Pleas of York County in case of Brian R. Riddle v. Curtis L. Anderson and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, No. 80-S-621.
Mark E. Garber, Jr., Acting Chief, Tort Litigation Section, with him, Randall G. Gale, Deputy Attorney General, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for appellant/appellee, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
Donald L. Reihart, with him, Lillian M. Morgan and Sharon E. Myers, Laucks & Monroe, for appellee/appellant, Brian R. Riddle.
Judges Williams, Jr., Doyle and Blatt, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Blatt.
[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 272]
In this trespass action to recover damages for injuries sustained by Brain R. Riddle (Riddle) in an automobile accident, the jury found both the driver of the vehicle in which Riddle was a passenger and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (DOT) negligent and thus liable for damages in the amount of $55,000.00 (fifty-five thousand dollars) for pain and suffering, inconvenience, disfigurement and
[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 273]
loss of enjoyment of life. The jury did not award any damages for loss of past and future earnings.*fn1
Subsequently, Riddle filed a motion for a new trial in which he requested, alternatively: a new trial solely on the issue of damages, a new trial on all issues, or additur to justly compensate him for his loss of past and future earnings. He argued that the verdict was inadequate because it failed to compensate him for the irreparable brain damage he suffered as a result of the accident in the form of loss of past and future earnings. The trial court granted relief in the form of a new trial on all issues, concluding that the jury's failure to award any damages for loss of past and future earnings rendered the verdict inadequate inasmuch as it was "clearly against the weight of the evidence and reflected a disregard for the Court's instruction that in determining loss of past and future earnings, the jury was to consider plaintiff's [Riddle] opportunity to earn." Additionally, the trial court explained that a new trial on all issues rather than a new trial on the issue of damages alone was necessary in light of the conflict involving liability, stating that the overall low damage award indicated that the jury had possibly compromised the issue of liability and that, therefore, a new trial on the issue of damages alone would be inappropriate.
Cross-appeals were filed by DOT (1280 C.D. 1983) and by Riddle (1377 C.D. 1983).
[ 85 Pa. Commw. Page 2741280]
In its appeal, DOT contends that the trial court usurped the prerogative of the jury, and thereby abused its discretion, when it determined that the damage award was inadequate. DOT argues that, despite the lack of contradictory evidence on the issue of past and future earnings, the jury did not have to find credible Riddle's evidence regarding loss of past and future earnings. Furthermore, DOT urges that Riddle failed to meet his burden with respect to loss ...