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Trial Court’s Erroneous Instruction on Expert’s Testimony Regarding “Recklessness” Overturns a $2,000,000 Verdict and Orders a New Trial (PA)

January 15, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;"><em>James Temple, Administrator For The Estate of Elma B. <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Temple-v.-Providence.pdf">Temple v. Providence</a> Care Center, LLC D/B/A Providence Care Center</em> involved a fall of a resident, Elma Temple at a nursing home, Providence Care Center in 2011. After the trial resulted in a verdict of $2 million in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages, Providence filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court granted a new trial due to the failure to follow the court’s rules that led to the co-mingling of the arguments for compensatory and punitive damages. Although the Appellant did not request a mistrial immediately after closing arguments, the trial court said that it used it’s sua sponte power to grant a new trial, based on the rule that, “when a trial judge believes that the trial was not fair, that judge is obliged to correct it.” The Superior Court affirmed this decision and the Appellant remanded the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which held that the trial court did not correctly use its sua sponte power when granting a new trial.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On remand, the Superior Court found that the jury should not have been instructed regarding recklessness when the Appellant’s expert nurse testified that Providence acted with “reckless disregard” for plaintiff’s safety. This statement was not supported by facts as required by Rule 705. <em>See</em> Pa.R.E. 705. (“If an expert states an opinion[,] the expert must state the facts or data on which the opinion is based.”).] The Superior Court held that the erroneous instruction on recklessness, “invited the jury to punish Providence instead of compensate Elma for her damages.” Ultimately it was found that Providence suffered prejudice from the mistakes made in the Nurse’s testimony.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">This case shows the importance of judicial review of the accuracy of an expert’s testimony and the influence of expert testimony on a jury.</p>
Thanks to Emily Finnegan for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:tbracken@wcmlaw.com">Thomas Bracken</a> with any questions.

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