For the first time Pennsylvania voters will fill 3 of the 7 seats in Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court in one day. This election could heavily affect your attorneys’ ability to fight for your rights for the next 20 years.
Lawyers who fight for the rights for everyday people and make sure injured victims will have a right to trial by jury are recommending:
Judge Kevin Dougherty, Judge Christine Donohue, Judge David Wecht
We urge you to vote on November 3, 2015 and be sure to support pro-civil justice like those listed.
Please print and bring to polls.
As an example of the importance of the Supreme Court elections in November, we only have to look at a recent decision in which the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a $500,000 cap on damages for claims against political subdivisions.
On January 12, 2007, a school bus operated by the Pennsbury School District accelerated out of control and ran onto a sidewalk. The runaway bus struck 20 students and ran over and crushed Ashley Z., a 17 year old Pennsbury High School student. Ashley sustained serious pelvic and leg injuries that necessitated the amputation of her left leg above the knee. The school district admitted fault, accepting that the damages were caused by the negligence of the driver of its bus. At the time of the accident, Pennsbury had $11 million in liability and excess insurance coverage. But the district maintained that its liability was limited to $500,000, the statutory limit on damages recoverable against a political subdivision or its agency under state law.
Ashley sued the school district and in late 2011, a Bucks County jury returned a verdict of $14 million for her serious injuries. The verdict included almost $340,000 in past medical expenses, $2.6 million in future medical expenses and $11 million in past and future pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. Pursuant to the Pennsylvania statute that was enacted in 1978, the trial judge reduced the verdict to the mandated cap of $500,000.
In support of his reduction of the verdict, Judge Mellon wrote an opinion in which he stated that:
“There is no dispute that the circumstances of this case create an unfair and unjust result. But despite the inherent injustice that appears in this case, this court is constrained by precedent.” He added, “The court is of the opinion that a re-evaluation of the constitutionality of the statutory cap on damages on equal protection grounds is necessary.”
In late 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial judge to reduce the verdict to the $500,000 cap on damages. In affirming that ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a number of constitutional challenges against the statutory cap.
Article III, Section 18 of the Pennsylvania Constitution provides that “in no cases … shall the General Assembly limit the amount to be recovered for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to persons or property.” The PA Supreme Court rejected this argument by holding that it only prohibits limitations on the liability of private, as opposed to governmental actors.
The attorneys for Ashley also challenged the cap based on the equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution, arguing that by discriminating against tort victims depending on the identity of the person causing their injury, it violated the constitution. A person injured by a political subdivision is limited to $500,000 even when a jury awards a larger sum, and even where there is insurance to cover the loss. But another equally injured person who receives an equal jury award may seek recovery of the entire verdict when injured by a private party. This case demonstrates the catastrophic effect of that discrimination.
The Supreme Court rejected every constitutional argument and upheld the statutory damages cap of $500,000. Would the result have been different if there were different justices on the Supreme Court? Perhaps not. But no one knows.