Chavers v. 1605 Valley Ctr. PKY

Decision Date30 March 2023
Docket Number1045 EDA 2022,1183 EDA 2022,J-A05036-23
PartiesKALEVELYN CHAVERS Appellant v. 1605 VALLEY CENTER PKY, LP; PENN CAP GROUP 3 GP, LLC; PENN CAP PROPERTIES PORTFOLIO, LP; AND GRUBB & ELLIS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC. KALEVELYN CHAVERS Appellant v. 1605 VALLEY CENTER PKY, LP; PENN CAP GROUP 3 GP, LLC; PENN CAP PROPERTIES PORTFOLIO, LP; AND GRUBB & ELLIS MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC. APPEAL OF: PENN CAP PROPERTIES PORTFOLIO, LP
CourtPennsylvania Superior Court

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION - SEE SUPERIOR COURT I.O.P. 65.37

Appeal from the Judgment Entered April 12, 2022 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County Civil Division at No(s) C-48-CV-02016-6041

BEFORE: LAZARUS, J., KUNSELMAN, J., and MURRAY, J.

MEMORANDUM

MURRAY, J.

Kalevelyn Chavers (Appellant) appeals from the $202,814.23 judgment entered following a jury verdict in her favor, and against 1605 Valley Center Pky, LP; Penn Cap Group 3 GP, LLC; and Penn Cap Properties Portfolio, LP (PCPP).[1] PCPP cross-appeals the judgment. Upon careful review, we affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand with instructions.

The trial court summarized:

On July 8, 2016, [Appellant] … commenced this suit via complaint. In her complaint, [Appellant] alleged that on July 22, 2014, she tripped on exposed wires at her place of employment, Easton Hospital [(employer)], causing her to fall and sustain injuries. [Appellant] alleged that her injuries occurred due to the negligence of [PCPP], which owned and maintained the property….

Trial Court Opinion, 3/16/22, at 2. In a June 17, 2016 Compromise and Release (C&R), Appellant settled her claim against employer and its workers' compensation carrier for $100,000.00. As a result of the settlement, the employer/carrier assigned their subrogation rights to her. C&R, 6/17/16.

On July 8, 2016, Appellant filed this action against PCPP. The trial court explained:

On November 8, 2021, a jury trial commenced in the instant matter. On November 12, 2021, the jury returned a verdict in favor of [Appellant], finding [PCPP] 100% negligent in causing the accident[,] and awarded [Appellant] one hundred sixty thousand dollars ($160,000.00) in damages. The Civil Prothonotary docketed the verdict following the conclusion of the trial. On November 17, 2021, [Appellant] filed her motion for delay damages. [Appellant] and [PCPP] then filed their respective post-trial motions on November 22, 2021….

Trial Court Opinion, 3/16/22, at 2.

The trial court subsequently awarded delay damages and molded the verdict. Order, 3/16/22, at 1. The court denied the parties' remaining post-trial motions. Id. On April 12, 2022, the trial court entered judgment against PCPP for $202,814.23. Appellant timely appealed, and PCPP filed a cross-appeal. The parties and the trial court have complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

Appellant presents the following issues for our review:

1. Did the trial court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse [its] discretion by denying the admission of past medical expenses and/or the lien for same, allowing the jury to be told that such an award would be a double recovery, and by refusing to mold the verdict to include past medical expenses of $228,347.10 (plus delay damages and post-judgment interest), and/or in failing to grant a new trial on damages for the valuation of [Appellant's] past recoverable medical expenses?
2. Did the trial court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse of discretion by permitting the jury to be advised that [Appellant] did not have to pay back the indemnity lien due to the assignment of the lien to her, depriving [Appellant] of an additional award of at least $154,711.66 (plus delay damages and post-judgment interest), such that the court should have either molded the verdict to include those damages, or grant a new trial concerning the valuation of those damages?
3. Did the trial court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse its discretion by precluding Dr. [Christopher] Ferrante's estimate as to the cost of future medical expenses, such that a new trial on future medical expenses should have been ordered?
4. Did the court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse of discretion by refusing to grant a new trial on the Disfigurement Claim since the verdict of $0 for disfigurement is clearly against the weight of the evidence?
5. Did the court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse of discretion by refusing to grant a new trial on the claim for past, present, and future pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, and loss of enjoyment of life, since an award of only $25,000 is against the weight of the evidence, and probably the result of court error in admitting evidence of employer negligence?
6. Did the court commit prejudicial error of law and/or abuse of discretion in refusing to grant a new trial on the issue of loss of past and future household services, for which the jury's award of $0 was clearly against the weight of the evidence?

Appellant's Brief at 4-6 (capitalization modified).

On cross-appeal, PCPP presents the following issues:

1. Did the trial court err by denying [PCPP's] motion for judgment NOV or alternatively for new trial, and underlying motions for summary judgment, nonsuit and directed verdict, as the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and establish that [PCPP] owed or breached a duty to [Appellant] given the clear terms of the Lease and as it bore no responsibility for installing and maintaining the wires [Appellant] tripped over, as the verdict was also against the weight of the evidence?
2. Is a new trial required due to errors at trial which individually and cumulatively so prejudiced [PCPP] that the verdict was punitive and based on sympathy, speculation and confusion, which included:
a. denying [PCPP's] proposed verdict slip and accepting [Appellant's] version, and submitting and erroneous verdict slip causing jury confusion; and
b. failing to charge the jury on open and obvious conditions and rejecting [PCPP's] proposed instruction?
3. Is [PCPP] entitled to entry of judgment NOV in its favor or a new trial, as the jury's finding that [Appellant's] comparative negligence was not a factual cause of harm was against the weight of the evidence, is not supported by the record evidence, and is contrary to law, as [Appellant] admitted she knew of the wires for at least 2 years before the incident but did not advise her employer or [PCPP], was looking ahead and not where she was walking, and, could have walked on the right side of her desk which was free of potential tripping hazards?
4. Did the trial court err by granting [Appellant's] Motion for Delay Damages which should have been denied or significantly reduced based on delay beyond [PCPP's control], including the Covid pandemic and judicial emergency?
5. Did the trial court err by denying [PCPP's] Motion for Remittitur, and reducing and remitting the damages award to [an] amount consistent with the weight of the evidence?

PCPP's Brief at 6-8. We first address the issues raised by Appellant.

Appellant's Appeal at 1045 EDA 2022

(1) Whether the trial court committed [a] prejudicial error of law and/or abuse of discretion by denying admission of past medical expenses and/or the lien for the same, allowing the jury to be told that any award of the lien amount would be a double recovery, and by refusing to mold the verdict to include past medical expenses of $228,347.10 (plus delay damages and pos-judgment interest), and or failing in granting a new trial on damages for the valuation of [Appellant's] past recoverable medical expenses.

Appellant argues the trial court "erred by failing to admit the past medical expenses and permit recovery of the same[.]" Appellant's Brief at 17. Appellant claims the trial court improperly deemed her past medical expenses unrecoverable from PCPP. See id. at 18. According to Appellant,

she gave up rights under the [Workers' Compensation Act (WCA)[2] to obtain that lien assignment. The [trial court] summarily deprived [her] of the benefit of her bargain in favor of pardoning the responsible tortfeasor.

Id. at 18 n.2 (footnote added).

Appellant further argues the trial court impermissibly permitted PCPP to present evidence of

the [subrogation] lien, the fact that all of [Appellant's] past medical bills were paid, as well as much of her wage loss as set forth in the C&R Agreement, that any award to [Appellant] on the items covered by the lien would be payable to [Appellant], and therefore are not recoverable ....

Id. at 20. Appellant maintains the subrogation lien should have been admissible at her option, as established in Nazarak v. Waite, 216 A.3d 1093 (Pa. Super. 2019). Appellant's Brief at 21. Quoting Nazarak, Appellant claims she can recover the expenses paid by the workers' compensation carrier. Id. at 22.

Appellant explains the public policy of avoiding a windfall was not implicated because she "paid for the assignment of the subrogation right." Id. (capitalization modified). Id. Appellant argues, "Because [she] was assigned the lien for good and valuable consideration, [] the tortfeasor gets away with paying none of the medical bills it negligently caused [Appellant] to incur." Id. at 24.

Appellant also claims the preclusion of an award for her past medical expenses deprived her "of property rights without due process." Appellant's Brief at 26 (capitalization modified). Additionally, Appellant insists the trial court's ruling will discourage settlements of workers' compensation cases and other cases involving third-party carriers. Id. at 29. According to Appellant, the trial court should have molded the verdict to include past medical expenses or award a new trial on damages. Id. at 42, 48. Appellant directs our attention to...

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