Superior Court Uphold Jury Verdict of Zero Damages

The Superior Court, in a recent unpublished decision, affirmed a jury’s decision that Defendant’s negligence caused harm to Plaintiff but that harm was insignificant and unworthy of compensation.  Notaro v. Pfaffle, 2015 Pa. Super., Unpub. LEXIS 735.  The Superior Court further concluded in its decision that the Trial Court did not abuse its discretion or commit any error of law by denying Plaintiff’s Post-Trial Motion for New Trial.  While the decision in Notaro is unpublished and does not have precedential value, the decision does provide defendants with some guidance when evaluating and defending a minor motor vehicle accident case.

In Notaro, Defendant rear-ended the Plaintiff’s vehicle and there was clear negligence for the accident.  Defendant, however, was only traveling between 3 to 5 mph at the time of impact and the airbag of the Defendant’s vehicle did not deploy.  There was no testimony regarding whether the Defendant’s vehicle was damaged.   Furthermore, all of the Plaintiff’s complaints were subjective.  Neither party presented expert testimony at trial.  Rather, the parties submitted medical records into evidence. 

The evidence showed that the Plaintiff never lost consciousness in the accident.  Plaintiff did not strike anything inside her vehicle as a result of the impact and she was able to exit her vehicle without any assistance.  Plaintiff did not complain of any injuries to the Defendant and her vehicle sustained a broken taillight and some scratches on her bumper.  Plaintiff declined any emergency treatment at the accident scene and she was able to drive away from the accident and continue her trip to a store.  She did not see a physician until approximately four days after the accident at which time she was complaining of some shoulder, head, and neck pain.  There were no objective signs of injury on any diagnostic studies.  Plaintiff was initially treated conservatively with muscle relaxants and exercises.  Plaintiff did not miss any time from work but claimed she was not able to do all the things that she had done before the subject accident.  Plaintiff eventually sought follow-up care with a different physician and received medication and a prescription for physical therapy.  Plaintiff only attended one session of physical therapy.   She also testified about swelling in her face and locking of her jaw, claiming that she had TMJ which was a previously diagnosed and treated condition.  Plaintiff’s treating orthodontist eventually opined that Plaintiff’s TMJ was not associated with the accident.  

In refusing any new trial in the case, the Trial Court noted that the jury could have found that Plaintiff’s alleged symptoms were controlled by medications and, therefore, insignificant.  Given the evidence that was admitted, the jury’s verdict did not shock the Trial Court’s conscience and the jury’s verdict in favor of the defense did not defy common sense or logic. 

Upholding the Trial Court’s refusal to grant a new trial, the Superior Court reasoned that the existence of compensable pain is an issue of credibility and juries must believe that Plaintiff suffered pain before they compensate for that pain.  A jury is not required to award a Plaintiff any amount of money if it believes that the injury Plaintiff suffered in an accident is insignificant.  While a jury may conclude that a Plaintiff has suffered some painful inconvenience for a few days or weeks after the accident, it may also conclude that the discomfort was the sort of transient rub of life for which compensation is not warranted.  Citing Lombardo v. DeLeon, 828 A.2d 372, 375 (Pa. Super. 2003). 

Randy T. Burch

Office: Reading
Phone: (610) 568-1410
Email: rburch@forryullman.com
Practice Areas: Commercial Litigation, Coverage, General Liability, Premises Liability, Third Party