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Flenke v. Huntington

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 17, 2015

HOWARD FLENKE, Appellant
v.
RICHARD B. HUNTINGTON, Appellee

Argued October 29, 2014.

Page 1198

Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, York County, Civil Division, No: 2011-SU-000997-69.

Randall M. Justice, Jr., York, for appellant.

Seth T. Black, Harrisburg, for appellee.

BEFORE: BOWES, OTT, and STABILE, JJ. OPINION BY STABILE, J.

OPINION

Page 1199

STABILE, J.:

Appellant, Howard Flenke, appeals from the April 14, 2014 judgment entered in favor of Appellee, Richard B. Huntington. We affirm.

This personal injury action arose from an April 14, 2009 automobile accident. Appellee stipulated that he was negligent and that his negligence was a factual cause of Appellant's injuries. Thus, the parties devoted their efforts at trial primarily to establishing Appellant's damages. The parties' expert witnesses offered competing views of the extent of Appellant's physical injuries, and the relationship between those injuries and the accident. Appellant's expert testified that the accident caused significant spinal injuries to Appellant requiring several types of surgery. Those surgeries, according to Appellant's expert, would cost approximately $75,000. Appellee's expert, Dr. Daniel P. Hely (" Dr. Hely" ), testified that Appellant suffered only strained muscles or sprained ligaments in his neck and back. Dr. Hely attributed Appellant's spinal condition to degenerative arthritis. A jury awarded Appellant $30,000 after a three-day trial.

Appellant filed an unsuccessful motion for a new trial followed by this timely appeal. He argues the trial court improperly excluded portions of his videotaped deposition from the jury. Specifically, Appellant argues the trial court erred in sustaining defense objections to lines of questioning probing: (1) Dr. Hely's earnings as a " defense industry expert; " (2) Dr. Hely's perception that his various employers will not ask him to evaluate people who are seriously injured; (3) the amount of money Dr. Hely has received from the insurance company providing Appellee's defense in this case, which is allegedly more than Dr. Hely has received from any other insurance company; and (4) the diagnoses and prognoses Dr. Hely issued in his fifty most recent expert opinions. Appellant's Brief at 5-7. Appellant also argues the trial court erred in preventing Appellant from introducing evidence that his first party insurance carrier provided benefits in connection with the accident. Id. at 6.

We begin with our standard of review. Trial courts have broad discretion to grant or deny a new trial. Harman ex rel. Harman v. Borah, 562 Pa. 455, 756 A.2d 1116, 1121 (Pa. 2000). We review the trial court's decision for abuse of discretion. Id. at 1122.

There is a two-step process that a trial court must follow when responding to a request for new trial. First, the trial court must decide whether one or more mistakes occurred at trial. These mistakes might involve factual, legal, or discretionary matters. Second, if the trial court concludes that a mistake (or mistakes) occurred, it must determine whether the mistake was a sufficient basis for granting a new trial. The harmless error doctrine underlies every decision to grant or deny a new trial. A

Page 1200

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.
To review the two-step process of the trial court for granting or denying a new trial, the appellate court must also undertake a dual-pronged analysis. A review of a denial of a new trial requires the same analysis as a review of a grant. First, the appellate court ...

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