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Callahan v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

July 14, 2009


Appeal from the Judgment entered January 24, 2008 in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division, at No. 1338 June Term 2005.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Orie Melvin, J.



¶ 1 Appellant, National Railroad Passenger Corp. (hereafter Amtrak) appeals from the judgment entered following a jury verdict in favor of Appellee, Henry Callahan (hereafter Callahan). After careful review, we affirm.

¶ 2 The trial court aptly summarized the factual background in this matter as follows.

Plaintiff Callahan sustained bodily injuries on April 20, 2004, in the course of his employment as an Electric Traction lineman with Defendant Amtrak. [Callahan] suffered injuries to his legs, feet and back when he fell approximately 40 feet from a catenary pole at or near the Richmond substation in Philadelphia.

When climbing the pole, [Callahan] had to climb the first 20 feet using a device called skates. At the 20 foot mark, a ladder begins and continues to the remainder of the pole. At the 40 foot mark, there is a gap in the ladder's rungs which require the climber to use a bolt head [or step bolt], measuring 1.5 inches, for footing. On April 20, [Callahan] was able to climb up the pole without incident; however, [Callahan] fell while climbing down the pole. [Callahan] argued that the gap in the ladder threw him off balance and he fell 40 feet hitting the ground below.

Trial Court Opinion, 6/6/08, at 1-2.

¶ 3 Callahan filed suit against Amtrak, and the matter proceeded to trial in January 2007. Pertinent to this appeal are several rulings by the trial court. First, the trial court permitted an expert witness for Callahan to testify regarding provisions of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)*fn1 and also instructed the jury on its consideration of those provisions with respect to Amtrak's alleged negligence. Additionally, the trial court denied Amtrak's request for special interrogatories regarding the jury's calculation of damages, and excluded certain testimony on Callahan's future economic loss over Amtrak's objection. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found in favor of Callahan against Amtrak but also found Callahan to be 30% contributorily negligent. Both parties' post-trial motions were denied, and the trial court entered judgment on the molded verdict in the sum of $3.15 million. This timely appeal followed.*fn2

¶ 4 Amtrak presents two issues for our review:

1. Is a new trial required because plaintiff's liability expert was allowed to testify regarding defendant's alleged violations of OSHA regulations that do not apply to the facts of this case and because the Trial Court charged the jury that those regulations do apply and could support a finding of liability?

2. Is a new trial required because of the erroneous and unfair manner in which the Trial Court handled plaintiff's claim for future economic loss?

Appellant's brief at 4.

¶ 5 We begin our review by observing our standard of review.

In reviewing a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion for a new trial, it is well-established law that, absent a clear abuse of discretion by the trial court, appellate courts must not interfere with the trial court's authority to grant or deny a new trial. Moreover, [a] new trial is not warranted merely because some irregularity occurred during the trial or another trial judge would have ruled differently; the moving party must demonstrate to the trial court that he or she has suffered prejudice from the mistake.

Bednar v. Dana Corp., 962 A.2d 1232, 1235 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

¶ 6 Amtrak's first claim is that OSHA regulations had no application to this case because its provisions were preempted by a policy statement of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). As such, Amtrak argues, the trial court erred in permitting testimony about OSHA regulations and in instructing the jury that it could consider those regulations in evaluating whether Amtrak was negligent. For the following reasons, we disagree with Amtrak's contentions.

¶ 7 Callahan filed this action against Amtrak pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA),*fn3 claiming that Amtrak was negligent in various respects and that Callahan sustained injury as a result. Complaint, ¶ ¶ 3-13 (Certified Record (C.R.) at 1). On the second day of trial, Amtrak moved in limine seeking, inter alia, to preclude Callahan from introducing evidence on OSHA regulations,*fn4 and the trial court entertained argument on the motion. N.T. Trial, 1/17/07, at 26-45. The trial court denied the motion in limine. Id. at 44-46. Callahan's next witness was Vincent Gallagher whom he offered as an expert in "OSHA's policies and procedures, OSHA standards, the principles and practices of safety management, [and] the principles and practices of fall safety control." Id. at 60. Counsel for Amtrak proceeded with cross-examination of Gallagher's qualifications and objected to his status as an expert. The trial court accepted Mr. Gallagher as an expert as proffered. Id. at 81. He testified that three specific OSHA regulations relating to ladder rung spacing and one regulation relating to fall protection for persons climbing ladders were applicable to the case.

¶ 8 Initially, we observe that "the admission of evidence rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and will only be reversed upon a showing that it abused its discretion."Quinby v. Plumsteadville Family Practice, Inc., 589 Pa. 183, 212, 907 A.2d 1061, 1078 (2006). Additionally, "for a ruling on evidence to constitute reversible error, it must have been harmful or prejudicial to the complaining party." Cave v. Wampler Foods, Inc., 961 A.2d 864, 869 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citation omitted). Similarly,

[t]he admission of expert testimony is a matter of discretion [for] the trial court and will not be remanded, overruled or disturbed unless there was a clear abuse of discretion. Indeed, admission of the disputed testimony must be shown to have been not only erroneous but also harmful.. Evidentiary rulings which did ...

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