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Grosek v. Panther Transportation

April 1, 2009

HELEN GROSEK, AND ANTHONY GROSEK, PLAINTIFFS
v.
PANTHER TRANSPORTATION, INC., PANTHER EXPEDITED SERVICES, INC., AND ANTHONY L. SANDERS, A/K/A TONY SANDERS, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court are the parties' motions in limine. Having been fully briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

Background

This case arises out of an accident between plaintiffs' automobile and a truck driven by Defendant Anthony Sanders, an employee of Defendant Panther Transportation ("Panther"). On May 14, 2007, Defendant Sanders allegedly drove his tractor-trailer through a steady red light at an intersection in Dallas Township, Luzerne County Pennsylvania. His truck struck the automobile operated by plaintiff Helen Grosek, causing severe injuries. Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in this court on August 29, 2007, which alleged that Helen Grosek's injuries were a result of the defendants' negligence. (See Doc. 1).

After discovery closed, the defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 50). On February 20, 2009, the court issued a memorandum and order granting this motion in part and denying it in part. (Doc. 66). The court then scheduled a pre-trial conference, ordering the parties to file their motions in limine in advance of that date. (Id.). The parties did so, and briefed the issues, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

This court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The plaintiffs are Pennsylvania citizens, and the defendant corporations incorporated and with their principle places of business in states other than Pennsylvania. Defendant Sanders is a citizen of North Carolina. The amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

Discussion

The parties have raised a number of motions in limine. The court will address them in turn.

a. Defendants' Motion in Limine to Trifurcate the Trial

Defendants seek to have the court trifurcate the trial. (Doc. 68). Defendants argue that the trial should be divided into three segments: first, the jury should consider the question of liability; next, the jury should consider whether to award compensatory damages; finally, the jury should deliberate on the question of punitive damages. Defendants insist that the jury would become distracted and unable to concentrate on the question of liability if confronted with the extensive damages suffered by the plaintiffs, especially by Plaintiff Helen Grosek. Moreover, the evidence to satisfy the burden of proof on damages is not relevant to the question of liability and thus not necessary to answering that initial question. Because the witnesses in each of these stages are different, no duplication of evidence will occur in separate trials. Defendants also seek to separate the question of punitive damages, arguing that the jury would be allowed to consider defendants' net worth in assigning punitive damages and that knowledge of the defendants' deep pockets would inflate the compensatory damages a jury awards.

Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for separate trials as follows:

For convenience, to avoid prejudice, or to expedite and economize, the court may order a separate trial of one or more separate issues, claims, crossclaims, ...


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