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Schnader Team Successfully Concludes Freightliner Products Liability Case

On May 31, 2007 by Schnader in News

Schnader’s Appellate Practice Group experienced a victory in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Hutchinson v. Freightliner. The case involved a truck rollover accident in which the truck driver/plaintiff lost his arm.  In December 2003, a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury awarded the driver $5.5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages; at this point, the Firm was brought in to assist with the post-trial motions and appeal.

Working closely with trial counsel, we first were able to persuade the trial court to vacate the punitive damages award, although the court denied our motion for a new trial. Cross-appeals followed. In an opinion written by Judge Phyllis Beck in May 2005, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s vacation of the punitive damages award and, in addition, granted a new trial. The Supreme Court then granted plaintiff’s petition for allowance of appeal.  The case was argued before that court in October 2006. On May 31, 2007, nearly eight months after the argument, the Court issued its one-word opinion: “Affirmed.”

The case is significant because it establishes that the “substantial similarity” test is required for the admission of other accident evidence when plaintiff is attempting to use that evidence to show the defendant’s alleged “evil” state of mind for punitive damages purposes, just as it is when plaintiff is using such evidence for any other purpose.

This was truly a team effort over the course of more than three years. Dennis Suplee, Nancy Winkelman, Jen Diamantis, Steve Fogdall, and Linda Alle-Murphy worked intensely at the post-trial and Superior Court stages; Nancy and Steve took the lead in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; partner Carl Solano, along with Dennis, served as a moot court judge for both the Superior and Supreme Court arguments. Associate Joel McHugh assisted Nancy with oral argument preparation in the Supreme Court.