Trucker gets new trial after jury failed to award medical expenses/lost wages damages
September 15, 2020
A trucker who suffered serious injuries from a work-related incident will get a new trial after a jury awarded him $500,000 for pain and suffering but failed to award him anything for medical expenses or lost wages.
On Aug. 21, Judge Joseph D. Seletyn of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania upheld a lower court’s decision granting Bradley Myers a new trial on damages after a jury awarded him $500,000 in December 2018. The $500,000 was for pain and suffering only, awarding nothing for medical expenses and past and future lost earnings, despite testimony from experts calculating medical expenses at more than $1 million and lost wages also equaling more than $1 million.
In March 2014, Myers was delivering a load to Ameripride Fence Co., owned by Frank Sebastianelli. A forklift was unavailable at the time, forcing Myers to unload by hand. While unloading, a piece of dunnage swung toward Myers, striking his left leg. According to testimony from one of Myers’ doctors, he suffered fractures of the tibia and fibula of his left leg. X-rays showed that his left foot was in a “totally different direction than his knee, with the foot pointing 90 degrees in the wrong direction.”
A lawsuit was filed, and in December 2018 a jury found Sebastianelli 51% negligent and Myers 49% negligent. Myers was awarded $500,000 for past, present and future pain and suffering, embarrassment and humiliation, and loss of life’s pleasures. However, the jury entered an amount of zero dollars for past medical expenses, future medical expenses, past lost earnings, future lost earning capacity, and disfigurement.
Myers contested the verdict, claiming he is entitled to compensation for medical expenses.
During the trial, Myers included expert testimony from six people. An orthopedic surgeon who performed surgery on Myers stated that Myers cannot return to work and confirmed claimed injuries.
Another doctor who evaluated Myers said that the trucker’s condition is permanent and that Meyers had a poor prognosis for the future. He also confirmed Meyers could no longer work as a truck driver. The remaining experts gave similar testimony regarding Myers’ condition.
An amount of more than $530,000 for past medical bills was admitted into evidence. Sebastianelli stipulated that the amount was reasonable but did not opine on whether he was the cause of those past medical expenses.
Regarding future medical expenses, one expert witness calculated the following costs:
- Nearly $900,000 for medical costs.
- More than $100,000 for costs associated with amputation.
- Nearly $100,000 for costs of a spinal stimulator.
- Nearly $20,000 for pain medication.
However, Myers has rejected both a spinal stimulator and amputation at the time of the trial.
Other than medical expenses, Myers also claims he is entitled to lost wages. One expert calculated that Myers was making $17.50 as a truck driver at the time of incident. Myers had earned $46,000 in the year previous to the incident. The expert stated that employers would not accommodate Myers’ limitations. The following wage losses were found:
- Nearly $900,000 in future lost earnings.
- More than $200,000 in past lost wages.
- More than $100,000 in future fringe benefit loss.
- Nearly $8,000 in past 401(k) proceeds.
Sebastianelli never questioned Myers’ injuries. However, he did point out that perhaps Myers has not been proactive in reducing those injuries. During closing arguments, Sebastianelli’s attorney noted that Myers refused certain procedures, including spinal cord stimulation and amputation. Both of those procedures could remove the pain Myers is experiencing.
Regarding lost wages, Sebastianelli’s attorney stated that Myers still has potential to earn money.
“I don’t need to point out to you that daily we see soldiers coming back from overseas with missing limbs and para athletes who by utilizing the technology that we have today, it’s amazing, they can replace limbs and live long, happy healthy, productive lives,” the attorney said in closing arguments. “Mr. Myers may no longer ever drive a truck again, but his skills, his education, the possibility of returning to school, can certainly translate into a very long and productive life if he wants to.”
That argument appeared to have convinced the jury. Sebastianelli was found barely liable at 51%, enough to put him on the hook for damages. However, the jury spared Sebastianelli from paying anything related to medical expenses and lost wages.
Myers appealed that verdict, requesting a new trial on damages only. In May 2019, the trial court granted Myers a new trial on the issues of medical expenses and lost earnings. Sebastianelli appealed the new trial order.
The trial court found the following and the appellate court agreed:
“There was absolutely no evidence to contradict the amount of past medical expenses and it is clearly uncontroverted. Accordingly, the failure to award the past medical expenses is offensive to the conscience and judgment of the court, and the court, therefore, determines that (Myers) is entitled to a new trial on past medical expenses.”
Regarding Sebastianelli’s argument that Myers refused certain procedures, the appellate court ruled that does not take Sebastianelli completely off the hook. Specifically, the argument can be used for mitigation against future medical expenses, but it does not eliminate them completely.
In other words, regardless of what decision Myers makes regarding his condition, it “does not translate into an award of zero dollars for future medical expenses,” the appellate court states.
The appellate court made similar arguments regarding lost wages. Essentially, Myers’ medical decisions could mitigate damages, but do not reduce damages to zero.
However, Sebastianelli did score one victory in his appeal. He argued that if Myers gets a new trial on medical expenses and lost wages, then the pain and suffering verdict should be on trial as well. The appellate court agreed. The court has been sent back to the lower court, where all categories of damages will be examined.