John Severance Aug. 2, 2016, 8:25am


PHILADELPHIA — James Beck, attorney at Reed Smith, has a theory as to why Philadelphia juries have a tendency to dole out eight- and nine-figure awards in personal injury cases.

"We have some very skilled plaintiff-side attorneys in Philadelphia, and the jury pool is heavy with economically disadvantaged people who can be persuaded by them to lash out against corporate defendants," Beck told the Pennsylvania Record.

Beck has been monitoring Polett v. Public Communications, in which the plaintiff, a 67-year old woman, had knee implant surgery and then agreed to make a promotional video on behalf of the company. She then allegedly reinjured her knee while making the video.

Marjorie Polett, who said she had rheumatoid arthritis and a medical history of knee problems, suffered an injury to her right knee as a result of negligence, which led to a loss of motion, falls, a patellar fracture, ruptured tendons and three additional surgeries, she alleged. 

In their lawsuit, the Poletts were awarded $26.6 million by a Philadelphia jury, but an appeals court recently found that figure excessive.

She testified that she does not like being so dependent on others and looking so old. As a result of the injury, she alleged that she needs a walker and fears falling, she cannot drive, she experiences pain in her right knee and requires assistance with standing and sitting, and the multiple surgeries left a scar stretching below, across and above her right knee. 

An appeal was filed, and the case made its way to Superior Court. The latest Polett opinion is from the en banc Superior Court and it’s unpublished.

Beck said the unpublished opinion was a bit of a concern.

“Using an en banc court is the procedure in Pennsylvania to overrule prior panels and unify the law,” Beck said. 

“That such a decision itself would be uncitable (as all the court’s unpublished opinions are) is unusual. This court has already been criticized for over-reliance on uncitable opinions, and to start issuing them en banc only aggravates the problem.”

Beck said eight-figure verdicts for anything less than the most serious, permanent and life-altering injuries are subject to challenge as excessive.

This was the unpublished opinion of the court:

"Upon review of the record before us [and] in light of the evidence accepted by the jury, we conclude that the $26,600,000 jury award of damages to (plaintiff) was excessive – if not punitive – and clearly beyond what the evidence warrants.

"Under the circumstances unique to this case, the $26,600,000 jury award to (plaintiff) for non-economic losses deviates substantially from the uncertain limits of what is considered fair and reasonable compensation and, therefore, shocks the sense of justice. Thus, the trial court erred as a matter of law in denying (defendants’) motion for a remittitur. Accordingly, we vacate the award ... and remand."

Shanin Specter, an attorney representing the Poletts, told the Law360 website he would appeal to the Supreme Court to review the case again.

"This opinion is in conflict with clear Supreme Court precedents and we'll be asking the Supreme Court to set this right again,” he said. “As for the defendants, they can run but they can't hide and eventually they will have to pay the Poletts for their negligence that has caused so much harm."

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