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Shook v. Lehigh Valley Rest. Grp., Inc., 2024 Pa. Super. LEXIS 119, 2024 WL 1451371 (April 4, 2024).


Opinion by: DUBOW.

Appellant, Lehigh Valley Restaurant Group, Inc. d/b/a Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews (“Red Robin”), appeals from the June 21, 2023, order granting the post-trial motion for a new trial limited to the issue of damages filed by Appellee, Amber Shook (“Ms. Shook”). After careful review, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

The relevant facts and procedural history are as follows. On April 13, 2019, Ms. Shook slipped and fell at a Red Robin restaurant in Exton, Chester County, injuring her elbow.

After the jury began deliberating, it became deadlocked. The trial court then gave the jury the “deadlocked jury” instruction and the jury resumed deliberating. It eventually returned to the courtroom and attempted to deliver a verdict that apportioned 70% of liability to Red Robin and 30% to Ms. Shook and awarded Ms. Shook $0 damages. Upon reading the verdict sheet to himself, but not aloud in court, the trial judge rejected the proposed verdict and instructed the jury that it needed to award some damages to Ms. Shook.

No party objected to the jury instruction. Shortly thereafter, the jury returned with the verdict slip noting an award in Ms. Shook’s favor of $1,000.

The trial court entered an order vacating the damages award of $1,000, purportedly reinstating the $0 damages verdict, and ordering a new trial limited to the issue of damages.

We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion by granting Ms. Shook a new trial on grounds not raised by her in a post-trial motion.

Red Robin avers that because the court never announced the $0 damages award in open court, polled the jury about it, or properly recorded it, it was not a valid verdict that could be reinstated. Red Robin’s Brief at 29-30. We agree.

The jury’s initial intent to award Ms. Shook $0 damages was not a verdict that the court could reinstate and subsequently find against the weight of the evidence. The trial court, thus, erred in reinstating the $0 damages award.

We observe that, in light of the trial court’s abuse of discretion in granting Ms. Shook’s post-trial motion on grounds not raised by her, erroneously reinstating a damages award of $0, and then determining that that award was against the weight of the evidence, the issue actually raised by Ms. Shook in her post-trial motion, i.e., whether the jury’s verdict of $1,000 is against the weight of the evidence, remains unresolved. We, therefore, reverse the order of the trial court granting Ms. Shook a new trial on damages and remand for the court’s consideration of Ms. Shook’s claim that the jury’s $1,000 verdict was against the weight of the evidence.