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November 15, 1954


Appeal, No. 60, March T., 1954, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Jan. T., 1951, No. 2472, in case of Jane McAdoo v. Autenreithhs Dollar Stores. Judgment reversed. Trespass for personal injuries. Before DREW, J. Verdict for plaintiff in the sum of $4,766.00; defendant's motion for judgment n.o.v. refused and judgment entered on the verdict. Defendant appealed.


V. C. Short, for appellant.

Morris M. Berger, with him Samuel Krimsly, for appellee.

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

Author: Jones

[ 379 Pa. Page 389]


The plaintiff recovered a verdict for damages for personal injuries suffered when she was struck by the back-swing of a swinging door at the entrance to the defendant's store on Forbes Street in Pittsburgh. The court denied motions for judgment n.o.v. and for a new trial without an opinion, the term of the judge who presided at the trial having expired shortly after entry of the order. The defendant appeals from the judgment entered on the verdict and assigns for error only the lower court's refusal of the motion for judgment n.o.v. In support of the motion, the appellant argues that (1) the plaintiff's injuries resulted from the intervening negligence of a third person, (2) the plaintiff failed to make out a case of causative negligence on the part of the defendant and (3) the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law. Viewing the evidence and the reasonable inferences deducible therefrom in the light most favorable to the verdict, as we are required to do, the material facts may be summarized as follows.

Patrons entering the defendant's store, as did the plaintiff, step from the sidewalk into a display vestibule which connects with the store proper by means of a doorway closed off by double swinging doors. In the early afternoon of a January day, the plaintiff, a woman of forty-five, entered the display vestibule, intending to go into the store to make a purchase. She had been in the store on previous occasions and was aware that the swinging doors at the entrance swung in both directions. With her handbag under her left arm, she approached the "In" door on her right-hand side and pushed it open with her right hand. While in that position she observed a man, clad for the outdoors, who was walking toward the "Out" door on the plaintiff's left-hand side. When she had cleared the

[ 379 Pa. Page 390]

    doorway on her right, she started to walk to her left, proceeding by putting her left foot forward; her right foot was then slightly in back of her. At that moment the door on her left, presumably from being released by the man who had appeared to be leaving the store, swung back into the store and struck her on the right foot and thigh. The force of the blow propelled her to the floor of the store against a counter about seven feet from the doorway, causing the injuries for which she brought suit.

The doors in question are constructed of lightweight wood and glass. The door on the right (to one entering the store) was two feet eight and one-half inches wide and the other door, two feet nine inches. There were no warning signs, dividers or railing barriers separating the doors. Each door was hung on three double action (Bommer type) hinges which permit a door to swing freely in either direction within its fixed arc. The Bommer type hinge is equipped with two spring barrels one of which is on either side of the door. The barrel springs are adjusted to equalize their tension so that the door stays on the transverse center line of the doorway when in its normal closed position. When the door is pushed open the motion winds the one spring, thereby increasing its tension and, concomitantly, the opposite spring is unwound which reduces its tension. As the door is released from an open position, the tension of the tightened spring causes the door to swing back which it ordinarily does to a point beyond the line of its normal closed position, thus creating a tension in the opposite spring which, in turn, causes the door to swing back the other way. During the diminishing progress of the oscillation, the tension in the two springs becomes equalized and the door comes to rest at its closed position where it remains until pushed open again.

[ 379 Pa. Page 391]

The plaintiff's theory of liability is that the proximate cause of her injury was the defendant's negligence in maintaining swinging doors on spring hinges without retarding or stopping devices so that the doors, after being pushed open, could not swing back with sufficient force to strike and throw a person to the floor. The plaintiff offered no testimony to show that the doors, hinges or springs were inadequate, improper, out of adjustment or defective in any way whereby their use was rendered unsafe. This failure of proof on the part of the plaintiff is the more significant in the light of the testimony of the expert called by the defendant who stated without contradiction that the Bommer type of hinge is the standard hinge used in some super markets, five and ten cent stores and moving picture theatres where lightweight doors are installed on wooden jambs such as in the entrance to the defendants store. He further testified that the Bommer type hinge was used in and about Pittsburgh in ninety per cent of the stores like the defendant's, are still being extensively used and that he was installing them practically every week in industrial plants.

We pass over without discussion the defendant's contentions that the plaintiff's injuries resulted from intervening negligence of a third person or from her own contributory negligence. The important and controlling thing is that there was no proof from which the defendant's causative negligence could be inferred save for the happening of the accident itself which, of course, is legally insufficient to establish liability. A possessor of land is not an insurer of the safety of an invitee; the standard of conduct required is merely reasonable care: Sheridan v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, 353 Pa. 11, 13, 44 A.2d 280. Indeed, the plaintiff concedes that if the defendant's swinging

[ 379 Pa. Page 392]

    doors were reasonably safe when used with ordinary care and in the manner followed by persons generally, the defendant fully discharged its legal duty to the plaintiff in the premises: cf. Graeff v. Philadelphia & Reading R.R., 161 Pa. 230, 236, 28 A. 1107. The question for decision, therefore, is whether the entrance doors provided by the defendant were reasonably safe for their intended purpose when used with ordinary care. The question is not, as the plaintiff assumes, whether the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury was the defendant's failure to equip the doors with checks or retarding devices that would stop the backward swing of the door instanter on the line of its normal position when closed.

While use of customary methods, machinery or appliances is evidence of an exercise of reasonable care, such usage does not furnish a conclusive test on the question of negligence: Donnelly v. Fred Whittaker Company, 364 Pa. 387, 390, 72 A.2d 61. In Hudson v. Grace, 348 Pa. 175, 181-182, 34 A.2d 498, our present Chief Justice pertinently pointed out "In the piquant language of Mr. Justice Holmes: 'What usually is done may be evidence of what ought to be done, but what ought to be done is fixed by a standard of reasonable prudence, whether it usually is complied with or not': Texas & Pacific Ry. Co. v. Behymer, 189 U.S. 468, 470. Or, as was said in Indermaur v. Dames, (1866) L.R. 1 C.P. 274, 288, 19 Eng.Rul.Cas. 64, 78: 'No usage could establish that what was in fact unnecessarily dangerous was in law reasonably safe, as against persons towards whom there was a duty to be careful.'" See, also, Maize v. ...

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