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Deeds v. Univ. of Pa. Med. Ctr.

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

January 30, 2015


Argued,  December 10, 2014

Appeal from the Order of January 28, 2014 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No.: 2558 May Term, 2011. Before BERNSTEIN, J.

Thomas J. Duffy, Philadelphia, for appellant.

John J. Hare, Philadelphia, for Hospital of University of Pennsylvania and J. Junkins-Hopkins, M.D. appellee.



Page 1010


In this medical negligence action, Niajah Deeds, a minor by her legal guardian, Julia Renzulli, appeals from the jury verdict in favor of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (" HUP" ), and Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania (" Trustees" ) (collectively, " Appellees" ). Following due review, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

The trial court set forth the following facts:[1]

On November 27, 2000, [Deeds'] mother, Tamika Peterson,[2] presented to HUP

Page 1011

with back and abdominal pain. She was diagnosed with " common discomfort of pregnancy" and given preterm labor instruction sheets. She again presented on January [18], 2001 with complaints of headache, uterine contractions, and blurred vision. She reported cocaine and cigarette use. Ms. Peterson's records also indicated a physically small placenta and history of sickle cell disease, and physical trauma. Ms. Peterson was evaluated and instructed to return for a follow up visit on January 20, 2001. She was also given an instruction sheet for warning signs of preeclampsia.
Ms. Peterson did not return to HUP until 6:20 p.m. on January 20, 2001 with complaints of vaginal bleeding. Ms. Peterson suffered a placental abruption and gave birth via an emergency cesarean section. [Deeds] was born with severe birth defects.

Trial Court Opinion (" T.C.O." ), 5/21/2014, at 2. Renzulli, Deeds' legal guardian, filed suit on Deeds' behalf on May 23, 2013, alleging that Appellees negligently failed to diagnose Peterson with preeclampsia when she was seen on January 18, 2001. The matter proceeded to a jury trial on October 25, 2013. At the end of the first day of trial, Deeds informed the court that the parties had stipulated that " all the people who provided medical treatment to Ms. Peterson were agents of Defendant HUP [and] asked the [c]ourt to dismiss the other defendants from the case." Id. The court denied the motion to dismiss the other defendants, thus permitting both HUP and the Trustees to be represented separately by individual counsel, each of whom then presented separate arguments and conducted separate examinations of witnesses throughout trial. Only HUP, and not the Trustees, appeared on the verdict sheet.

On November 12, 2013, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Appellees. Deeds timely filed post-trial motions requesting judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, alternatively, a new trial. The court denied the post-trial motions on January 28, 2014, and Deeds timely appealed. In response to the trial court's order, Deeds filed a statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) on March 31, 2014, and the trial court entered its Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a) opinion on May 21, 2014.

Deeds presents three questions for our review:

1. In accordance with this Court's recognition of a per se rule entitling the plaintiff to a new trial following a defense verdict where counsel for defendant has improperly informed the jury that the plaintiff's injuries are being adequately cared for due to the availability of government benefits, should not [Deeds] receive a new trial here because [Appellees'] counsel committed this very transgression, to the likely prejudice of [Deeds]?
2. Did the trial court err or otherwise abuse its discretion in not granting [Deeds] a new trial because the trial court improperly allowed two separate attorneys representing two separate defendants to question witnesses and present closing arguments even after the parties stipulated that this case would proceed only against a single defendant?
3. Did the trial court err or otherwise abuse its discretion in permitting defendant Dr. Samuel Parry to testify as an expert witness beyond the scope of his actual treatment of the birth mother,

Page 1012

even though defense counsel failed in violation of applicable procedures to identify him as an expert witness and disclose his expert opinions during discovery?

Deeds' Brief at 5-6.

In her first issue, Deeds argues that she is entitled to a new trial because the trial court violated the collateral source rule when it " improperly allowed [Appellees] to inform the jury that [Deeds'] substantial medical needs were all being attended to at little to no cost to [Deeds'] legal guardian due to the existence of state and federal education and medical benefits programs." Id. at 16-17. We agree.

Our standard of review regarding a trial court's denial of a motion for a new trial is limited. The power to grant a new trial lies inherently with the trial court and we will not reverse its decision absent a clear abuse of discretion or an error of law which controls the outcome of the case.

Maya v. Johnson & Johnson & McNeil-PPC, Inc. (In re McNeill-PPC, Inc.), 2014 PA Super 152, 97 A.3d 1203, 1224 (Pa. Super. 2014) (citation omitted).

Generally, " the collateral source rule provides that payments from a collateral source shall not diminish the damages otherwise recoverable from the wrongdoer." Johnson v. Beane, 541 Pa. 449, 664 A.2d 96, 100 (Pa. 1995). This rule " was intended to avoid precluding a claimant from obtaining redress for his or her injury merely because coverage for the injury was provided by some collateral source, e.g. insurance." Beechwoods Flying Service, Inc. v. Al Hamilton Contracting Corp., 504 Pa. 618, 476 A.2d 350, 352 (Pa. 1984); see also id. at 353 (the rule is " intended to prevent a wrongdoer from taking advantage of the fortuitous existence of a collateral remedy" ); Denardo v. Carneval, 297 Pa.Super. 484, 444 A.2d 135, 140 (Pa. Super. 1982) (" Pennsylvania law is clear; the victim of a tort is entitled to the damages caused by the tortfeasor's negligence regardless of compensation the victim receives from other sources" ), citing, inter alia, Boudwin v. Yellow Cab Co., 410 Pa. 31, 188 A.2d 259 (Pa. 1963).
Griesser v. National R.R. Corp 2000 PA Super 313 761 A.2d 606
Further, " when improperly admitted testimony may have affected a verdict, the only correct remedy is the grant of a new trial." Id. at 608 (citing Collins v. Cooper, 2000 PA Super 22, 746 A.2d 615, 620 (Pa. Super. 2000)).

Nigra v. Walsh, 2002 PA Super 113, 797 A.2d 353, 356 (Pa. Super. 2002) (citations modified).

In the instant case, Deeds identifies, and the record confirms, several instances in which Appellees elicited evidence of government benefits and collateral sources of compensation to Deeds. At trial on October 31, 2013, while cross-examining Deeds' expert witness (certified life care planner[3] Kathleen Corrigan, RN, CEN, CLCP), counsel for the Trustees elicited the following:

[Counsel for the Trustees]: . . . It's not your opinion that Miss Renzulli is paying that out-of-pocket cost [for Deeds' medications]? You don't have that opinion, do you?

Page 1013

[Corrigan]: That she is paying for the medication?
[Counsel for the Trustees]: That they're being charged the out-of-pocket cost?
[Corrigan]: I believe Medicaid is paying for the medication.
[Counsel for the Trustees]: Okay. And they don't pay that walk up pay out of their pocket price either, do they?
[Counsel for Deeds]: Objection, Your Honor. That's not the legal standard of what the plaintiff is entitled to recover, and it's a total collateral source rule and we have a ...

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