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HELD v. AMERICAN HOTEL REALTY CORPORATION (06/28/54)

June 28, 1954

HELD
v.
AMERICAN HOTEL REALTY CORPORATION, APPELLANT



Appeal, No. 77, Jan. T., 1954, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, Jan. T., 1953, No. 245, in case of David Held et ux. v. American Hotel Realty Corporation. Judgment affirmed. Trespass for personal injuries. Before HENNINGER, P.J. Verdicts, for husband-plaintiff in the sum of $6,000.00, and for wife-plaintiff in the sum of $4,000.00, and judgments entered thereon. Defendant took one appeal, and, upon the filing of a petition to quash the appeal, elected to treat the appeal as being from the $6,000 judgment.

COUNSEL

Harold W. Helfrich, with him Donald L. LaBarre, for appellant.

Laurence H. Eldredge, with him Morris Efron and Robert E. Haas, for appellee.

Before Stern, C.j., Jones, Bell, Chidsey, Musmanno and Arnold, JJ.

Author: Musmanno

[ 378 Pa. Page 197]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On August 20, 1952, Mrs. Annie Held, 75 years of age, set out from her home to make arrangements for the perpetual care of the grave which she expected in the not too distant future to occupy. The office receiving payments for this "perpetual care" was located in the B. & B. Building on Hamilton Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Two doors pierced the side of the building. One, the regular entrance, opened into the lobby which gave access to the elevators; the other opened into a steep stairway to the basement below. Almost as if in a fateful acceleration of the somber event for which she was making full preparations, Mrs. Held entered into the wrong door, fell down the unguarded steps and suffered a broken neck. Serious as was the injury, she recovered and, with her husband, brought suit against the owners of the building, charging them with negligence.

The two doors were separated by a space of 30 inches of wall on which appeared the sign "Entrance" accompanied by a brief arrow pointing to the door to the right. The distance between the pronged head of the arrow and its tail was so short that a quick glance would not tell the average eye in which direction it was pointing. Moreover, when the basement door was open, which it was on the day of the accident, the lettering and the arrow disappeared behind its overlapping wooden panels.

No sign informed people that the basement door was not the entrance to the building, nor were visitors warned to stay away from the basement door. No landing topped the cellar stairway. Thus, one entering the basement door, assuming that it was a regular building

[ 378 Pa. Page 198]

    entrance would normally carry his foot farther forward than the total width of the top step (11 1/2 inches) with the result that his advanced foot would press down on empty air and he would inevitably topple or tumble down the precipitate stairway. Almost as if to assist the unwary pedestrian into this sudden descent, no artificial light illuminated the top of the stairway.

Mrs. Held arrived at the B. & B. Building at about 3 p.m. on the day of the accident. It is a common experience that one entering from bright sunshine into a room not specially lighted will find his vision momentarily impaired and the most normal objects will assume a hazy, misty shape somewhat removed from reality. Thus, when Mrs. Held passed from the summer afternoon brightness into the unlighted doorway she entered into a dimmed enclosure which completely obscured the treacherous steps beneath her feet. She had not visited this building for a year and a half prior to the accident so that she could not be charged as a matter of law with recent knowledge of the win door arrangement which proved her undoing.

Was the defendant corporation negligent in the maintenance of the B. & B. Building? Were the doors involved in the accident so placed that a reasonably prudent person using ordinary care could be deceived into believing that the door which ...


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