Raise It Or Waive It. The PA Supreme Court Upholds Damages Award Due To Failure To Timely Object

December 7, 2018

A recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court contains a harsh lesson for any trial occurring in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The recent case of Stapas v. Giant Eagleinvolved a verdict in favor of a plaintiff, John Stapas, who was disabled after a shooting outside of a store owned by Defendant Giant Eagle. The case was a premises liability case but the underlying liability case was not at issue in the appeal. What was at issue was the fact that the jury returned a verdict that included 1.3 million dollars in future wage loss despite there being no evidence offered at trial to support that award.

The jury found for the plaintiff and was instructed to return a lump sum award. However, the jury was given a verdict slip with five categories of damages and a line for the total. The jury returned a verdict with a breakdown of damages by type including future wage loss in the areas of the verdict slip for those damages. Giant Eagle appealed and argued that the award of future damages was against the weight of the evidence since no evidence was offered to support it and that the jury failed to follow the judge's instruction to return a lump sum award. The Pennsylvania Superior Court agreed with Giant Eagle and found that a new trial on damages should be held.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, disagreed and found that Giant Eagle had several opportunities to object to the verdict while the jury was still empaneled and did not. As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the verdict. The Supreme Court reasoned as follows: "Giant Eagle had multiple opportunities to preserve this ground for post-trial relief during the trial court proceedings but failed to do so. Specifically, Giant Eagle did not request a point for charge limiting wage loss to only past wage loss, did not object to the jury interrogatory listing 'wage loss' as a category of damages, and did not object to the trial court's damages instructions. Additionally, Giant Eagle did not object to the jury's verdict in which the jury specified that it awarded Stapas $1,300,000.00 for future wage loss. When the trial court's tipstaff read the jury's itemized verdict, Giant Eagle had a basis to object because the verdict did not conform to the trial court's instruction to return a single, lump-sum verdict and because the jury awarded damages for future lost wages, a category of damages that Stapas was not entitled to as a matter of law. By failing to raise an objection at any point during the trial before the jury was discharged, Giant Eagle waived its challenge to the jury's verdict."

As a result, despite plaintiff acknowledging that he was not entitled to future wage loss, the Court found that Giant Eagle's failure to raise the objection at a time when the jury was still present amounted to a waiver of the objection and the verdict was upheld. This may seem like a windfall for the plaintiff and that is ultimately the result, but it emphasizes that it is crucial for parties to raise objections at the earliest opportunity in a trial and that failure to do so can have disastrous consequences. The lawyers at Conway Schadler have experience that can make the difference in these types of situations. Please contact our offices for a free consultation so we can discuss how this substantial experience can be used to your benefit.