Appeal from the Order February 17, 2011 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): July Term, 2006, No. 00746
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stevens, P.J.
BEFORE: STEVENS, P.J., LAZARUS, J., and COLVILLE, J.*fn1
Defendant/Appellant John Crane, Inc. ("Crane"), challenges an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, granting a new trial pursuant to a post-trial motion filed by Plaintiff/Appellee, Margaret Shelhamer ("Shelhamer"), executrix of the estate of Thomas Shelhamer ("decedent"). We reverse.
The parties to the instant appeal were originally part of a larger, strict product liability action involving an additional plaintiff (Thomas Jones ("Jones")), and three additional defendants (B.F. Goodrich, Buffalo Pumps,
Garlock Company, and Ingersoll Rand). A jury trial presided over by the Honorable Ricardo C. Jackson was conducted in reverse bifurcated format, with damage issues addressed in phase I, and liability issues dealt with during phase II. During phase I, the jury determined that Shelhamer had proven by a fair preponderance of the evidence that exposure to asbestos was a factual cause of decedent's mesothelioma. 11/23/10 at 39.*fn2 During phase II, special interrogatories were proposed and presented to the jury.
N.T. 12/9/10 at 83. Question #1 asked: "Do you find that Plaintiff, Thomas Shelhamer, was exposed to the asbestos products of: B.F. Goodrich, Buffalo Pumps, Garlock Co., Ingersoll Rand, John Crane, Inc.?" Jury Verdict Sheet dated 12/9/10. With regard to this question, jury was instructed "[i]f your answer to Question #1 is "YES" to any of the above defendants ... proceed to Question #2. If your answer to Question #1 is "NO" to all of the above defendants, sign and date the verdict sheet and return to the courtroom because the plaintiffs cannot recover." Id. In response to Question #1, the jury responded "YES" to all defendants except Crane, indicating that it found that decedent was not exposed to the asbestos product of Crane.
Question #2 asked the jury "[d]o you find that the asbestos products of any of the below Defendants [as listed in question #1] were defective?" Id. With regard to this question, the jury was then instructed:
If your answer to Question #2 is "YES" to any of the above defendants listed in Question #2, proceed to Question #3. If your answer to Question #2 is "NO" to all of the above defendants, sign and date the verdict sheet and return to the courtroom because the plaintiffs cannot recover.
Id.*fn3 The jury again answered "YES" with regard to every defendant except Crane, indicating that it found that the asbestos product of Crane was not defective.
The third and final question asked "[d]o you find that the defective product of any of the below Defendants listed [as in Question #1] was a factual cause of Mr. Shelhamer's asbestos related mesothelioma?" Id. Despite finding in Questions #1 and #2 that Crane's asbestos product was not defective and that decedent had not been exposed to the product, the jury answered Question #3 in the affirmative with regard to every defendant, including Crane. In addition to being recorded on the verdict sheet, the jury's answers were read aloud by the jury foreperson. N.T. 12/9/10 at 101-103. The jury foreperson also read aloud the jury's findings with regard to Jones, the other plaintiff. Id. at 103-105. With regard to Question #3, which was identical to the third question posed as to decedent, the jury found as to Jones that the asbestos products of every defendant except Crane were a factual cause of Jones' injury. Id. at 105. Immediately following the foreperson's reading of the answer to Question #3 as to Jones, counsel for Crane requested a side-bar and asked that the foreperson reread the jury's answer to Question #3 as it pertained to decedent. Id. at 106. The foreperson again stated that the jury found as to decedent that the asbestos products of every defendant including Crane were a factual cause of the injury. Id. at 107.
Despite the fact that the jury's first two answers conflicted with their third answer, neither party objected to the verdict, and it was recorded as follows:
[T]he jury has found that Mr. Shelhamer was exposed to asbestos products of B.F. Goodrich, Buffalo Pumps, Garlock Company, Ingersoll Rand, and not exposed to ...