George P. Williams, III, Orr, Williams & Baxter, Philadelphia, for appellants.
Samuel B. Brenner, Philadelphia, for appellees.
Before Rhodes, P. J., and Hirt, Reno, Dithrich, Ross and Gunther, JJ.
[ 173 Pa. Super. Page 29]
This is an action of trespass to recover damages for personal injuries sustained by the plaintiffs while they were spectators at stock car races conducted at defendants' stadium. After a jury verdict for each plaintiff, the defendants moved for judgment n. o. v., and after their motion was overruled and judgments entered on the verdicts, they appealed to this Court.
There is no dispute as to the facts. On the evening of September 4, 1950, plaintiff paid admission to and occupied seats in defendants' stadium for the purpose of watching stock car races. Stock cars are ordinary passenger automobiles with fenders removed and motors altered for greater speed. Defendants' installation, known as Yellow Jacket Stadium, consisted of a one-fifth mile macadam track, oval in shape and banked at the outside circumference with an uncovered grandstand on one side of the racing area. A heavy timber guard rail, or 'crash rail', approximately three feet high, encircled the outer edge of the track. About one foot behind the guard rail and extending completely around the track were a number of iron poles about 25 feet high, upon which were located the floodlights which illuminated the infield and track. Strung between these iron poles and extending from the ground to a height of 14 feet was a mesh fence constructed of
[ 173 Pa. Super. Page 30]
wire one-fourth inch in diameter. The protective fence completely enclosed the racing oval and was reinforced by three heavy cables strung behind and against it. Defendants' grandstand lay parallel to one side of the track and was set back therefrom a distance of 6 to 10 feet.
On the night in question, plaintiffs occupied seats in the fourth or fifth row of the grandstand. At approximately 10:30 p. m., during the fourth or fifth race, a wheel came off one of the stock cars as it sped past the grandstand. This wheel rolled to the guard rail, hit it, bounded some 24 feet into the air, cleared the protective fence and fell into the grandstand, injuring plaintiffs.
The theory of negligence relied upon by plaintiffs in their complaint and at the trial was that defendants failed to erect proper safeguards on their grandstand. The only question of negligence submitted to the jury by the court below was whether defendants had provided a reasonably safe place for spectators at their stadium. The issue before this Court is whether there was any evidence adduced at the trial to support that theory of negligence.
Plaintiffs concede, properly, that the mere happening of an accident is no evidence of negligence, Thompson v. Gorman, 366 Pa. 242, 246, 77 A.2d 413, but advance the theory that a special and expanded responsibility is cast upon the operators of places of public amusement for profit as regards the bodily safety of their patrons. In support of what they denote as 'this exceptional doctrine' they cite During v. Hyman, 286 Pa. 376, 133 A. 568, 53 A.L.R. 851, and Skeen v. Stanley Co. of America, 362 Pa. 174, 66 A.2d 774, and conclude from the fact of ...