September 10, 1975.
February 2, 1976.
Trespass Action — Negligence — Evidence — Practice — Grant of defendant's motion for compulsory nonsuit — Error of court below in refusing to grant new trial — Jury entitled to draw inferences based on evidence — Evidence sufficient to take case to jury — The Vehicle Code — Violation of The Vehicle Code as proximate cause of accident.
1. In this trespass action, the evidence established that plaintiff was driving east on a street. The plaintiff testified that she was about to enter an intersection and had a green light. She did not see the defendant's vehicle and the last thing she remembered before waking up in the hospital was that she was about to enter the intersection. The evidence further established that defendant was travelling west on the street and that he attempted to make a left hand turn in front of plaintiff's vehicle in the intersection which plaintiff was entering when the accident occurred. After the accident, the plaintiff's and defendant's cars were located in the plaintiff's lane of traffic. It was Held that the court below erred in granting the defendant's motion for a compulsory nonsuit.
2. The jury may not be permitted to reach its verdict merely on the basis of speculation or conjecture, and there must be evidence upon which logically its conclusion may be based.
3. The jury may draw inferences based upon all the evidence, and the jurors' own knowledge and experiences.
4. The evidence presented to the jury must be such that by reasoning from it, without resort to prejudice or guess, a jury can reach the conclusion sought by the plaintiff, and it is not necessary that that conclusion must be the only one which logically can be reached.
5. Section 1013(b) of The Vehicle Code provides that the driver of a vehicle "intending to turn to the left within an intersection, shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard."
6. It was Held in this case that the jury could have reasonably determined that the violation by defendant of Section 1013(b) of The Vehicle Code was the proximate cause of the accident and constituted negligence per se on the part of the defendant.
7. It is not necessary that every fact or circumstance point unerringly to liability; it is enough that there be sufficient facts for the jury to say reasonably that the preponderance of the evidence favors liability.
8. In ruling on a motion for compulsory nonsuit, all of the evidence offered by the plaintiff must be considered.
Submitted September 10, 1975.
Before WATKINS, P.J., JACOBS, HOFFMAN, CERCONE, PRICE, VAN der VOORT, and SPAETH, JJ.
Appeal, No. 1392, Oct. T., 1975, from order of Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County, Oct. T., 1971, No. 323, in case of Mary Zevas v. Walter L. Poniktera. Order reversed and case remanded for new trial.
Trespass for personal injuries. Before FRANCIOSA, J. Compulsory nonsuit entered. Order entered dismissing motion by plaintiff to remove compulsory nonsuit. Plaintiff appealed.
Robert H. Holland, Robertson B. Taylor, and Kolb, Holland, Antonelli Heffner, for appellant.
Jackson M. Sigmon, and Sigmon, Littner Ross, for appellee.
On January 18, 1970 automobiles operated by plaintiff and defendant collided at the intersection of Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff, who was severely injured, filed a complaint in trespass against defendant alleging that defendant was negligent in the operation of his automobile. Trial began on October 7, 1974 and, after plaintiff presented her evidence, defendant made a motion for a compulsory nonsuit. On October 8, 1974, the trial court granted defendant's motion and entered a compulsory nonsuit against plaintiff. A motion for the removal of the compulsory nonsuit, filed by plaintiff, was dismissed by the court en banc and plaintiff now appeals to this court.
The evidence which plaintiff presented at trial was as follows. The accident occurred at six o'clock on the evening of January 18, 1970. It was a clear night and the roads were dry. Plaintiff had stopped at a gas station on Easton Avenue. She left the station and turned onto Easton Avenue proceeding east toward the intersection of Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard. Easton Avenue consists of three eastbound lanes; one for right turns, one for left turns and a middle lane for thru traffic. Plaintiff was in the middle lane. For westbound traffic, Easton Avenue has two lanes; one for left hand turns and one for thru traffic. Plaintiff testified:
"I was traveling toward the direction of Two Guys [a department store], entering the intersection, I was about to enter the intersection of Easton Avenue and Stefko Boulevard and I had the green light. I was in my lane of traffic, and the traffic lane was clear ahead of me. And, I was about to enter it, which is the last thing I remember until I woke up in the hospital."
Plaintiff further specified that prior to impact, the last thing she remembered was that she was four to six feet from the intersection. At that time she saw traffic proceeding in the westbound thru lane but she did not see defendant's car, or any car, in the left turn lane of the westbound lanes.
Police officers who investigated the accident testified that both plaintiff's and defendant's cars, along with debris from the accident, consisting of oil and glass, were located in the eastbound thru lane of Easton Avenue. This is the lane plaintiff was in as she approached the intersection. The officers further testified that the right front of defendant's car was damaged and that the front end of plaintiff's vehicle was "pretty well mashed up." One of the officers testified that his investigation revealed that defendant's vehicle had been traveling west on Easton Avenue prior to the accident and had attempted to make a left hand turn onto Stefko Boulevard. In light of the above evidence the trial court granted defendant's motion for a compulsory nonsuit. We cannot agree.
As our Supreme Court stated in Smith v. Bell Telephone Co. of Pa., 397 Pa. 134, 138 (1959):
"We have said many times that the jury may not be permitted to reach its verdict merely on the basis of speculation or conjecture, but that there must be evidence upon which logically its conclusion may be based. Clearly this does not mean that the jury may not draw inferences based upon all the evidence and the jurors' own knowledge and experiences, for that is, of course, the very heart of the jury's function. It means only that the evidence presented must be such that by reasoning from it, without resort to prejudice or guess, a jury can reach the conclusion sought by plaintiff, and not that that conclusion must be the only one which logically can be reached." [Citations omitted.]
The conclusion sought by plaintiff, in the instant case, is that defendant did attempt to make a left hand turn onto Stefko Boulevard. It is clear to this court that such conclusion can be logically reasoned from the evidence without resort to prejudice or guess. Having determined that it was reasonable to conclude that defendant attempted to make a left hand turn onto Stefko Boulevard it must follow that defendant violated Section 1013(b) of The Vehicle Code which states:
"The driver of a vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley omnibus, intending to turn to the left within an intersection, shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is within the intersection or so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard."
Act of April 29, 1959, P.L. 58, § 1013, as amended by Act of August 27, 1963, P.L. 1231, § 1, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1013(b).
The jury could have further reasonably determined that the violation of Section 1013(b) was the proximate cause of the accident and, therefore, was negligence per se on the part of the defendant. See Jinks v. Currie, 324 Pa. 532, 537-538 (1936).
Defendant attacks the above conclusion on several grounds. He argues that inferences drawn from the fact that the vehicle and debris were in the lane of travel of plaintiff are not reliable. In support of this argument defendant cites the case of Algeo v. Pittsburgh Railways Company, 202 Pa. Super. 548 (1964). While the Algeo case does say that there are unlimited numbers of unknown factors that may cause an accident, it goes on to state: "The jury may determine from all the evidence what occurred and having thus reconstructed the accident may then determine whether the defendant was liable." Id. at 553. If we were to take from the jury every case where there are unlimited numbers of unknown factors that may have caused an accident few cases would ever go to the jury. As was stated in Smith v. Bell Telephone Co. of Pa., supra at p. 138, "It is not necessary, under Pennsylvania law, that every fact or circumstance point unerringly to liability; it is enough that there be sufficient facts for the jury to say reasonably that the preponderance favors liability."
Defendant cites several cases which he contends support his position that the quantum of evidence which the plaintiff has introduced is insufficient to take the case to the jury. The strongest such case is Engle v. Spino, 425 Pa. 254, 255-256 (1967). In that case the court set forth the facts as follows:
"Plaintiff-wife was driving north on Route 117 intending to turn west on U.S. Route 322. Defendant was driving east on U.S. Route 322. Route 117 is a two-lane highway controlled by a stop sign. U.S. Route 322 is a two-lane through highway. At the time of the accident, it was raining slightly. Plaintiff's automobile came to rest in a field off the northeast portion of the intersection; defendant's automobile came to rest facing in a westwardly direction in the westbound lane of traffic east of the intersection. The body of the wife (plaintiff) was on the berm of the northeast portion of the intersection; debris was scattered in the northeast quadrant of the intersection. When wife-plaintiff testified, she stated that she had no recollection of the accident. Defendant and his wife who was in his car did not testify and were not called on cross-examination." [Footnote omitted.]
From these facts the court concluded that the verdict of a jury would be mere conjecture or guess. We agree. However, in the instant case the quantum of evidence is sufficiently greater to take the basis of a verdict beyond conjecture or guess. Here plaintiff approached the intersection with the right of way, she had a green light rather than a stop sign. Here there was testimony of a police officer indicating that defendant was attempting to make a left hand turn onto Stefko Boulevard, thereby creating an inference of defendant's negligence under Section 1013(b) of The Vehicle Code. Here plaintiff's and defendant's vehicles and debris from the accident were in plaintiff's lane of travel. Here the physical damage to the automobiles involved support plaintiff's theory. The fact that there exists cases similar in one respect to the instant case, i.e., loss of memory by the plaintiff, does not control the instant case. All of the evidence offered by plaintiff must be considered; and, after consideration of that evidence, we find it sufficient to take this case to the jury. See standard of care as to left turns generally: Leasure v. Heller, 436 Pa. 108, 113 (1969); Reese v. Hughes, 223 Pa. Super. 311, 316 (1973).
Accordingly the lower court order denying a new trial is reversed and the case is remanded for a new trial.