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LORCH v. EGLIN (01/07/52)

January 7, 1952

LORCH
v.
EGLIN, APPELLANT



Appeals, Nos. 167 and 168, Jan. T., 1951, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 3 of Philadelphia County, Dec. T., 1948, No. 2607, in case of Adolph Lorch, 2nd, v. Meyer H. Eglin and Eglin's Garages, Inc. Judgment reversed; reargument refused February 6, 1952.

COUNSEL

Henry S. Ambler, with him Frank R. Ambler, for appellants.

Maurice H. Brown, with him Robert M. Bernstein, for appellee.

Before Drew, C.j., Stern, Stearne, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.

Author: Stern

[ 369 Pa. Page 315]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE HORACE STERN

Lorch, the plaintiff, and Eglin, the defendant, started on an automobile trip from Philadelphia to New Orleans, New Mexico ad California; for Lorch it was a pleasure, for Eglin a business trip. The automobile belonged to Lorch but Eglin agreed that he would pay for the gas, oil ad parking. Lorch drove the car from Philadelphia to Baltimore, where they stopped for lunch, after which Eglin, at Lorch's request, took the wheel. At a point in Virginia about 75 miles sough of Washington the car collided with another automobile which had been parked ahead of them in the center of the two-lane highway. There seems little room for doubt but that the accident was caused by Eglin's

[ 369 Pa. Page 316]

    negligence in the operation of the car. Lorch, seated beside him on the front seat, was seriously injured, and brought suit for damages against Eglin and Eglin's Garages, Inc., the corporation of which Eglin was an officer and on the business of which he was then engaged.*fn1 The jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor in the sum of $35,000. Defendants appeal from the discharge by the court below of their motions for new trial and for judgment n.o.v.

The accident having happened in Virginia, plaintiff's right of action must, of course, be determined by the law of that State. Appellants complain that they were not allowed to prove that law because the trial judge refused to accept testimony on the subject from a member of the Virginia Bar who was called by defendants as an expert witness. The Act of May 4, 1939, P.L. 42, provides that every court of this State shall take judicial notice of the common law and statutes of every State, that the court may inform itself of such laws in such manner as it may deem proper, and that the determination of such laws shall be made by the court and not by the jury. Since, therefore, it was the function of the court to take judicial notice of the Virginia law there was no need for testimony on the subject to be presented by witnesses, for judicial notice is not dependent upon the usual forms and methods of evidence. It is true that the statute provides that "any party may also present to the trial court any admissible evidence of such laws"*fn2 and therefore the

[ 369 Pa. Page 317]

    court should have received the testimony offered for that purpose, but whatever error was thereby committed was harmless since the ultimate requirement was only that the court should give such instructions to the jury as to the rights of the plaintiff and liability of defendants as were proper under that law, and this the court did. Virginia has a statute which provides that "No person transported by the owner or operator of any motor vehicle as a guest without payment for said transportation... shall be entitled to recover damages against such owner or operator for... injury to the person... of such guest resulting from the operation of such motor vehicle unless such... injury was caused or resulted from the gross negligence or wilful and wanton disregard of the safety of the person... being so transported on the part of such owner or operator." Defendants concede that in the absence of such a statute Lorch could recover damages from Eglin for injury sustained as the result of the latter's negligence, since no person may negligently injure another without being responsible for damages (Johnson v. Hetrick, 300 Pa. 225, 150 A. 477; Perry v. Ryback, 302 Pa. ...


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