Appeal from Order of Superior Court, entered December 4, 1987, at No. 338 Pittsburgh, 1987, reversing judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Civil Division, entered February 20, 1987, at No. G.D. 81-21038 and remanding for a new trial. 373 Pa. Super. 643, 536 A.2d 831 (1987).
Frederick N. Egler, Jr. Egler, Anstandig & Garrett, Pittsburgh, for appellant.
Michael R. Ford, Gallagher & Ford, Pittsburgh, for appellees.
Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala and Papadakos, JJ. Larsen, J., files a concurring opinion in which McDermott and Papadakos, JJ., join. Zappala, J., concurs in the result.
OPINION ANNOUNCING THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT
This products liability action presents the question whether the trial court violated the collateral source rule by allowing evidence of workmen's compensation payments received by the plaintiff during the period of his incapacity. The pertinent facts are as follows.
Appellee, John Hart, was injured while operating a pipe-cleaning machine manufactured by appellant, W.H. Stewart ("Stewart"). Appellee filed suit against Stewart, alleging that the machine was defectively designed and that Stewart had negligently failed to provide proper warnings and instructions. At trial, appellee called as a witness a representative of appellee's employer to testify in support of appellee's claim for lost wages. Before calling this witness, appellee's counsel indicated that he intended to file a motion in limine to prevent appellant from cross-examining the witness about appellee's receipt of workmen's compensation benefits because such questions would violate the collateral source rule. Appellant's counsel argued that he did not want to elicit testimony about workmen's compensation benefits, but instead intended to show that appellee had received his full salary for the three years from the time of his injury to the time of his removal from the company's payroll. The trial court ruled that appellant's objectives were not barred by the collateral source rule and that the desired cross-examination was permissible. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in favor of appellant on the issue of liability and never reached the issue of damages. Post trial motions were denied.
On appeal, the Superior Court reversed, finding in an unpublished opinion that the trial court erred in permitting appellant to cross-examine appellee's witness on the matter of appellee's salary for the three years after the accident. 373 Pa. Super. 643, 536 A.2d 831. The Superior Court ruled that even though the record did not indicate whether the witness had actually been called and/or cross-examined, it was reasonable to infer from the attorney's comments at sidebar that the objectionable testimony had been allowed, and that this evidence was of the type barred by the collateral source rule. Concluding that the introduction of this evidence may have substantially prejudiced the jury with respect to the issue of liability, the Superior Court reversed the trial court and granted a new trial on both the liability and damages issues.
Appellant Stewart now contends that the Superior Court's conclusion was erroneous. Appellant argues that even if the collateral source rule was violated by admission of this evidence, the resulting error was harmless because the rule relates only to damages, and the jury, which found for appellant on the issue of liability, never reached the issue of damages. We agree with this contention, and for this reason we now reverse the order of the Superior Court.
Appellee makes no assertion of legal error by the trial court regarding any issue of liability. He does not claim that at trial he presented sufficient facts to justify a finding of liability in his favor. Instead, appellee relies on the claim that the cross-examination of his witness should not have been permitted, maintaining that this error was the crucial factor in the jury's verdict against him. Appellee seems ...