Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Vetter v. Miller

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

March 10, 2017

JOHN VETTER AND ASHLEY JONES Appellants
v.
ANTHONY MILLER Appellee

         Appeal from the Judgment Entered July 19, 2016 in the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County Civil Division at No(s): 12-25023

          BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., RANSOM, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E. [*]

          OPINION

          RANSOM, J.

         John Vetter and Ashley Jones appeal from the July 19, 2016[1] judgment entered in favor of Appellee, Anthony Miller, following a grant of partial summary judgment and jury trial. After careful review of the briefs of the parties and the record below, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for a new trial.

         In light of our disposition, we adopt the following statement of relevant facts and procedure, garnered from the trial court's opinion, which in turn is supported by the record. See Trial Court Opinion, 8/5/2016 at 1-6. In September 2011, Appellants attended a wedding reception at which they consumed alcoholic beverages. Appellants left the reception at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Appellant Vetter was chosen to drive. Appellant Vetter has no recollection of the events of the evening after leaving the wedding reception. However, on their way home, the couple picked up their 14-month-old son.

         At approximately 9:00 p.m., Appellants were driving on State Road 422. Appellant Jones testified that Appellee began tailgating Appellants, purposely driving so close behind that his headlights could not be seen in their car mirrors. Appellant Jones testified that Appellant Vetter was uncharacteristically mad, yelling for Appellee to back off, and tapping his brakes several times to "brake check" Appellee. In contrast, Appellee, denied tailgating and suggested that Appellant Vetter repeatedly and recklessly applied his brakes.

         It was undisputed at trial that as the parties approached and stopped at a red light at the intersection of State Road 422 and Krick Lane, Appellant Vetter exited his car and approached Appellee, who remained in his vehicle with his driver's side window down. Appellee would later suggest in a statement to police that Appellant Vetter "did not look right and something was wrong with him." Miller Deposition, 10/20/2014, at 114-115. Appellee attempted to flee the scene in his car. However, as he did so, Appellant Vetter was knocked down by Appellee's vehicle and was dragged approximately 100 feet.

         Five emergency medical technicians (EMTs) responded to the scene. Each noted the smell of alcohol coming from Appellant Vetter. Four of these responders further noted that Appellant Vetter was combative.

         Upon review of information received at the scene, the responding police officer cited Appellant Vetter with driving under the influence (DUI), driving with a suspended license ("DWS"), and harassment.[2] The harassment charge was subsequently dismissed in connection with Appellant Vetter's negotiated guilty pleas to DUI (driving with a Blood Alcohol Level ("BAC") of .08 to .10) and DWS. Appellant Vetter testified on direct examination that his BAC was .09. Notes of Testimony (N.T.), 12/14- 16/2015, at 251.

         In November 2012, Appellants filed a complaint against Appellee for damages arising out of the incident described above. Appellants alleged that their injuries were a result of Appellee's negligence, recklessness, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

         At issue in this appeal are two pretrial motions. In October 2015, Appellee filed a motion for partial summary judgment, seeking dismissal of Appellant Jones' claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress.[3] In November 2015, Appellants filed a motion in limine, in which Appellants sought to preclude evidence of Appellant Vetter's intoxication, his guilty plea to the criminal charges of DUI and DWS, as well as the dismissed charge of harassment.

         In December 2015, the trial court granted Appellee's pretrial motion for summary judgment, concluding that Appellant Jones could not establish that she suffered serious bodily injuries. The lower court also denied Appellants' motion in limine, thus permitting Appellee to introduce evidence of Appellant Vetter's intoxication, as well as all criminal charges arising from the incident. Evidence of Appellant's criminal charges was thereafter presented to the jury.

         Following trial in December 2015, the jury returned a verdict assigning 74% of the causal negligence to Appellant Vetter and 26% to Appellee. The jury was instructed and aware that if more than 50% of the causal negligence was assigned to Appellant Vetter, that neither Appellant Vetter nor Appellant Jones would recover damages. Accordingly, the jury awarded no damages to Appellants.

         Appellants timely filed a motion for post-trial relief. According to Appellants, they were entitled to a new trial on three grounds, asserting the court erred in (1) granting Appellee's motion for partial summary judgment, (2) permitting the introduction of evidence of criminal charges arising out of the incident, and (3) permitting the introduction of evidence of Appellant Vetter's alleged intoxication. Appellee responded to the motion. Following a hearing, the lower court denied Appellants' motion. Appellants timely filed the instant appeal and filed a court-ordered Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) statement.

         Appellants present the following issues for our review:

1. Whether the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion in denying [Appellants'] Motion for Post[-]Trial Relief.
2. Whether the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion in permitting [Appellee] Miller to introduce irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence of [Appellant] Vetter's arrest, without conviction, for harassment and [Appellant] Vetter's prior driving history.
3. Whether the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion in permitting [Appellee] to introduce irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial evidence of [Appellant] Vetter's alleged intoxication as contributing to the cause of the incident without expert testimony.
4. Whether the trial court erred and/or abused its discretion in preventing [Appellant] Jones from pursuing damages for ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.