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Understanding Pennsylvania Comparative Negligence Law and Its Effect on Damages

In personal injury suits, Pennsylvania allows juries to consider whether or not the injured party was also negligent. If the fact finder determines the injured party was 51% or more negligent, he or she is unable to recover any damages. The injured party may still recover though, if he or she was responsible for 50% or less of the injuries. The amount of damages that he or she receives may be reduced by the percentage of fault assigned by the jury.

In Kinderman v. Cunningham, a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision, the jury found that the injured man was 50 percent negligent and awarded $10,000 for his injuries. The man injured himself while on a friend’s boat. The driver and owner of the boat hit the wake of a large carrier ship approaching in the opposite direction. The injured man was sitting on a storage box affixed to the deck near the front of the boat and was launched into the air when the boat hit the wake. The man landed on the deck and broke two bones in his right ankle, which eventually led to surgery that installed a permanent plate and screws in his ankle.

The injured boating guest had over $28,000 in medical bills and nearly $9,000 in lost wages. However, the jury only awarded $10,000, which was reduced by 50% to reflect the percentage of fault assigned by the jury to the injured person. The injured man filed for a new trial on the issue of damages only, pointing to the proof of the medical expenses. In his appeal, the man stated that the jury’s award was arbitrary and contrary to undisputed evidence.

In personal injury suits, the injured party must prove four elements in order to successfully recover monies for expenses caused by the injury: 1) that a duty was owed by the defendant to the injured person, 2) that the defendant failed in that duty, 3) that the failure caused the injury to the victim, and 4) the cost of damages. In this suit, the injured boat guest felt that the proof of the medical bills and 14 days of lost wages should have resulted in a higher amount of awarded damages. However, the Superior Court felt that the trial judge followed the proper course of action by upholding the jury verdict.

Juries are given a large amount of discretion regarding whether or not to award damages and how much is fair compensation. A trial judge can only grant a new trial on damages alone if the question of liability is not intertwined with the question of damages, and the issue of liability is not contested or fairly determined. The trial court, while commenting on its surprise about the amount, ultimately determined that the award followed the evidence and did not defy logic or common sense. The judge specifically described the verdict as one of compromise, and that the question of how much the injured person was entitled to was very much intertwined with the question of liability. The Superior Court agreed with the trial judge’s characterization and assessment, and it pointed to the established expectation of compromised verdicts in case law.

Seasoned litigators who will fight to maximize your damages are essential in a Pennsylvania personal injury lawsuit. The attorneys at Needle Law, P.C. have the experience you need to litigate and negotiate the damages you deserve. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 570-344-1266.

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