from the Judgment Entered July 19, 2016 in the Court of
Common Pleas of Berks County Civil Division at No(s):
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., RANSOM, J., and STEVENS, P.J.E.
Vetter and Ashley Jones appeal from the July 19,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
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.
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 ...