Imagine that you have been selected for Jury Duty and you are called upon to decide a personal injury case. The plaintiff, a young woman, was severely injured when a car driven by an intoxicated young man ignored a steady red light and crashed into her vehicle. The young plaintiff is seeking money damages for the injuries she claims were caused by the intoxicated defendant. If you reside in our Commonwealth, you will be asked to make a decision on the amount of money damages, if any, that should be awarded to the young victim. The intoxicated driver, although this will not be revealed to you, will be represented by an attorney hired through his insurance company and any award against him will, in nearly all instances, be paid by his insurance company. You, as a juror, will hear the evidence presented by "both sides" and at the conclusion of the trial will be asked to decide the case by awarding money damages to the plaintiff. At no time will anyone, plaintiff’s lawyer, defendant’s lawyer or judge be permitted to speak to you about the amount of money damages. You will be asked to determine the amount of money damages in the abstract and may, as many suggest, be relegated to a blind guess. Although you will be asked to make such a decision, no witness will have testified as to the value or lack of value in the plaintiff’s claims, including her claims for pain and suffering.
In cases involving automobile collisions, thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia permit the attorneys to argue and suggest monetary damages. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania remains in the minority.
The Senate of Pennsylvania has the opportunity to remedy this problem. House Bill No. 2246 permits argument on the amount of damages in motor vehicle crash cases. This legislation would bring Pennsylvania in line with the overwhelming majority of states and would certainly help to prevent unfair, unreasonable and "blind guess" verdicts. The legislation does not in any way alter Pennsylvania’s rules of evidence or any other legislation applicable to the trial of a motor vehicle injury case. Most observers, including attorneys who represent the plaintiffs as well as the defendants through the insurance carriers, believe that House Bill No. 2246 would right many wrongs and result in fairer verdicts thereby benefitting both parties involved in the litigation. Most defense lawyers believe that House Bill No. 2246 will help to prevent excessive verdicts, or what many call runaway verdicts, while plaintiffs attorneys believe that the legislation will also prevent the inadequate or unfair verdict when evidence may warrant a different result.
Unfortunately, we in Pennsylvania know all too well the sometimes cumbersome nature of the legislative process. Perhaps House Bill No. 2246 is different. The Bill passed the Transportation Committee on an 8 to 2, largely bipartisan, vote. It also passed the House with relative ease receiving support from both sides of the aisle. Perhaps the Pennsylvania Senate will follow suit. In September the Senate will be asked to vote on this legislation. Many if not all legal scholars support the passage of this legislation. Should the Senate act favorably, most observers believe that Governor Rendell will promptly sign House Bill No. 2246 and help bring clarity and guidance in the resolution of motor vehicle injury claims.
James T. Davis, Esquire