The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently affirmed a damages award that came under appeal after defendants argued that it was not supported by competent evidence. In 700 EBA v. Weaver’s Glass & Building, No. 1868 MDA 2016, defendants Weaver’s Glass & Building Specialties, Inc. appealed the amount of the damages awarded by the trial court in the underlying non-jury trial, which involved a dispute between Weaver and plaintiffs 700 EBA, LLC, after 700 EBA hired Weaver to furnish and install several windows in one of 700 EBA’s buildings. After installation, 700 EBA discovered that a majority of windows contained “major window failure” and permitted water to penetrate into the building during periods of heavy rain. Subsequently, 700 EBA sued Weaver for breach of contract for improperly installing the windows.
Following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of 700 EBA and awarded $67,420.25 in damages, which included the cost of replacing the windows. Weaver appealed the damages award on the grounds that replacement of the windows was not necessary, and that the problem could be resolved by simply repairing the existing windows, which would cost less than replacing the existing windows with brand new ones. As evidence in support of their appeal, Weaver cited 700 EBA’s expert testimony that replacement of the windows was not necessary.
On appeal, the court articulated the standard of review applied to challenges of a non-jury verdict – whether the findings of fact of the trial court are supported by competent evidence and whether the trial court committed error in application of the law. The trial judge’s findings of fact must be given the same weight as if they were found by a jury, however the appellate court has plenary review power to address questions of law. As to the specific issue of damages, the appellate court stated that the evidence must be considered in the light most favorable to the trial verdict winner, and that appellate courts should defer to the trial court on decisions regarding damages.
In reviewing the award, the appellate court cited an expert report from the window manufacturer that stated that the existing window frames should be removed, as well as expert testimony from a building remediation company and a building consultant who testified that the windows should be replaced. Additionally, the court cited expert testimony that opined that the plan to replace rather than repair the windows was reasonable, as was the quoted cost estimate. Thus, the Superior Court ultimately ruled that the trial court did not err in its damages award based on the replacement costs of the windows, and affirmed the award. This case offers aclear articulation of the standard of review applied by an appellate court when reviewing a damages award, and illustrates the heightened burden that an appellant must carry. THanks to Greg Herrold for his contribution to this post. Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.