The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to hear argument over the axing of a $1.8 million verdict awarded to a man who was shot outside of a Pittsburgh convenience store.
The justices granted allocatur to plaintiff John Stapas, who was disabled as a result of the shooting, but denied another allocatur petition filed by the defendant, Giant Eagle, corporate owner of the GetGo convenience store chain.
Allocatur was granted to the plaintiff on two questions:
First, “does the Superior Court’s decision to reverse the trial court’s finding of waiver, despite Giant Eagle’s failure to object to flawed jury instructions, flawed verdict slip and/or the problematic verdict, all of which contributed to the error complained of on appeal, conflict with this court’s holding in Straub v. Cherne Industries … a case not considered by the Superior Court?”
And second, “does the Superior Court’s decision to excuse Giant Eagle’s failures to object to flawed jury instructions, flawed verdict slip and/or a problematic verdict, merely because the appeal is styled as a ‘challenge to the weight of the evidence,’ conflict with the timely objection requirement of Dilliplaine v. Lehigh Valley Trust?”
Stapas was shot in front of the GetGo on 117 S. 18th St. on July 18, 2007, after an altercation with another shopper, Brandon McCallister, according to court documents. Stapas sued Giant Eagle for negligence, and on Nov. 17, 2014, an Allegheny County jury found Giant Eagle 73 percent negligent and Stapas 27 percent negligent, awarding him roughly $2.1 million.
The trial judge molded the verdict to take into account Stapas’ negligence and added delay damages, reaching a final total of $1.8 million. But while the state Superior Court later upheld the jury’s negligence findings, it reversed and vacated the monetary portion of the verdict and remanded for a new trial on damages.
According to Superior Court Judge Victor Stabile’s opinion, the court agreed with Giant Eagle’s argument that the jury’s finding of $1.3 million in future wage loss for Stapas, a busboy making $8.25 per hour plus tips, was unsupported by the record and undermined the entire verdict, and the jury did not follow instructions to provide a lump sum verdict.
“It is not lost on us that had the jury followed the trial court’s instructions and returned a single sum verdict, we would not be able to discern whether the jury awarded any part of that sum for future lost wages. However, that is not the case,” Stabile said. “As reflected on the record, the jury clearly allocated $1,300,000 for future lost wages that were unsupported by the evidence and were specifically disclaimed by Stapas’ counsel. Although Lady Justice is blindfolded, we will not don blinders to pretend the jury was within its rights to award damages that were neither sought nor proven.”
Giant Eagle’s lawyer, James F. Rosenberg, and Stapas’ lawyer, Gary J. Ogg, did not respond to requests for comment.