Exclusion of medical expert's testimony warrants new damages phase in slip-and-fall trial against Residence Inn

By Charmaine Little | Apr 22, 2019

HARRISBURG – The Superior Court of Pennsylvania on April 9 granted a slip-and-fall plaintiff's request for a new trial on damages that would be assessed against Residence Inn.

While Bryan Wright won his case against Residence Inn by Marriott, Inc. thanks to a jury verdict in his favor, he appealed after the lower court denied his motion for a new trial concerning the damages he would receive. He said the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas should not have excluded the testimony from the only expert Wright presented, Paul Sedacca, M.D. The Superior Court agreed and reversed.

Wright was staying at Residence Inn’s Willow Grove location in Horsham when he slipped on a 4- to 6-foot patch of ice and fell. He suffered an injury to his left shoulder, had bruises on his hip and shoulder and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery for his shoulder. 

He sued for damages and the day before the trial, Marriott filed a motion in limine to bar the expert video from Sedacca, who spoke on Wright’s behalf. While the lower court granted the motion, it did allow Dr. Sedacca to speak on Wright’s medical bills. 

The jury awarded Wright $8,896.44 for his medical expenses and $55,000 for non-economic damages. Wright responded with post-trial motions asking for a new trial, and pointed out that because Sedacca was barred the day before the trial, he didn’t have time to find another expert witness. 

The lower court denied the motion and he appealed. The Superior Court reversed the decision on a 3-0 vote. Judge Deborah Kunselman wrote the opinion, with Mary Jane Bowes and Jacqueline Shogan concurring. 

“Our review of the record indicates that Wright objected to the preclusion of Dr. Sedacca’s testimony at the time Marriott presented its motion in limine. Additionally, Wright asked for reconsideration of the matter the next day. Wright subsequently raised the issue in his post-trial motion,” Kunselman wrote. 

Marriott argued that Wright had to prove he was harmed by the trial court’s decision. The court pointed out that Wright was harmed as he couldn’t find a substitute expert in time, considering Marriott filed the motion to redact Sedacca from testimony the day before the trial began.

It added the trial court had the chance to reconsider its ruling when Wright filed his motion for a new trial. That was the opportunity the lower court could have corrected any possible errors, but it declined.

“Thus, we conclude that Wright adequately preserved this issue for appeal,” Kunselman wrote.

The Superior Court said that Sedacca had the qualifications to testify in this case, even though the lower court said otherwise. Sedacca, a licensed doctor who had practiced for more than 37 years at the time of the trial, had knowledge concerning Wright’s medical status. He practiced internal medicine, which includes all aspects of medicine and had experience with several subspecialties.

“Based on these credentials, it is evident that Dr. Sedacca had more knowledge than is otherwise within an ordinary layman’s range of training, knowledge, intelligence or experience,” Kunselman wrote.

Still, it concluded that the simple exclusion of Sedacca’s testimony isn’t enough to warrant a new trial. But in this case, Wright was able to show the verdict could have been different if Sedacca were allowed to fully give his account. It greenlighted a new trial, but limited it to damages only.

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Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas Superior Court of Pennsylvania

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