Response to Motion to Bifurcate

I thought I’d put up this portion of my response to a last minute defense motion to bifurcate a week long premises liability trial.

a. Because the issues of damages and liability are not completely separate, bifurcation is inappropriate.

“[T]he decision to bifurcate should only be made after the careful consideration of the trial judge. In determining whether to bifurcate a trial, the trial judge should be alert to the danger that evidence relevant to both issues may be offered at only one-half of the trial. This hazard necessitates the determination that the issues of liability and damages are totally independent prior to bifurcation.” Stevenson v. General Motors Corporation, 513 Pa. 411, 422 (1986) (emphasis added). It is important to avoid piecemeal litigation, particularly in personal injury cases, where issues of liability and damages are typically intertwined. Id. (quoting Brown v. General Motors Corp., 67 Wash.2d 278, 282 (1965)). Bifurcation is inappropriate when witnesses who testify to liability would also testify to damages. Doeblers’s Pa. Hybrids, Inc. v. Doebler, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85488, 5-6 (MD Pa. 2006).

In the present case, both Plaintiff and Ms. [Witness] will testify extensively to issues regarding both liability and damages. Ms. [Witness] is currently employed and any attempt to divide her testimony between issues of liability and damages would impose an unnecessary burden on her. Because of the interwoven nature of liability and damage issues in this case, bifurcation is inappropriate.

b. Because depositions of medical experts have already been taken, bifurcation is inappropriate.

One main justification for bifurcation is to avoid the expense of preparing the damages portion of the case prior to a liability determination. Stevenson v. General Motors Corporation, 513 Pa. at 415-416.

In the present case, Defendants waited until after Plaintiff’s medical depositions were completed, and one of Defendants’ medical depositions was completed, to file the present motion to bifurcate. There was no reason to wait to file the motion until after the expense of taking this trial testimony was incurred. Because significant expenses for preparation of the damages portion of the case have already been incurred, bifurcation is inapprorpriate.

c. There is nothing unusually complex about this case that would necessitate bifurcation.

Bifurcation is ordered to avoid prejudice and simplify issues. Pa.R.C.P. 212. Bifurcation is typically ordered in unusually complex cases. See Stevenson v. General Motors Corporation, 513 Pa. 411 (1987) (in which the liability portion of trial consumed nine days and the damages portion consumed twenty-three days); Coleman v. Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc., 570 A.2d 552, 553 (Pa.Super. 1990) (in which trial lasted twenty-three days); and Kenrich Athletic Club v. 19th & Sansom Corp., 97 A.2d 865 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2014)(in which the “case consisted of three separate actions; two of which were listed for non-jury trials and one jury matter where monetary damages were sought as relief”).

In the present case, both Defendants stated in their pretrial memorandum that trial would take no longer than eight days and there were no unusual legal issues. No defendant has stated why they feel testimony on damages in this case would prejudice or taint the jury. Because this case involves no unusual legal or factual issues, bifurcation is inappropriate.

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