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VOLLUM v. SCHOOL LANE APARTMENTS (01/04/55)

January 4, 1955

VOLLUM
v.
SCHOOL LANE APARTMENTS, INC., APPELLANT.



Appeal, No. 300, Jan. T., 1954, from judgment of Court of Common Pleas No. 6 of Philadelphia County, June T., 1952, No. 2746, in case of Marion Y. Vollum v. School Lane Apartment, Inc. Judgment affirmed.

COUNSEL

Ralph S. Croskey, with him Croskey & Edwards, for appellant.

Philip Price, with him Christopher Branda, Jr. and Barnes, Dechert, Price, Myers & Rhoads, for appellee.

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

Author: Musmanno

[ 380 Pa. Page 253]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

The defendant corporation, School Lane Apartments, owns and operates in Philadelphia an apartment house with an attractive entrance-vestibule constructed entirely of glass and framed in stainless steel. This vestibule, which resembles a large showcase, is rectangular in shape, measures about 7 by 5 feet and has two doors, one opening into the lobby of the building and the other conducting to the outside. On December 17, 1951, at about 8:30 in the morning, defendant's employes, because of a defect in the mechanism of the door check on the outer door, unhinged this door and stood it against the doorless 5-foot-wide glass wall of the vestibule. At about 11:45 that morning, the plaintiff Marion Y. Vollum, a tenant in the defendant's apartment house, passed into the show case entrance

[ 380 Pa. Page 254]

    on her way out of the building when the hingeless door, weighing from 200 to 300 pounds, fell upon her inflicting serious injuries for which a jury in the resulting lawsuit rendered a verdict in her favor in the sum of $9500. The defendant company's motion for a judgment n.o.v. was refused by the lower court and the case has come here of appeal.

In support of its argument for a reversal of the lower court's decision, the defendant argues that the plaintiff failed to prove any negligence for which it is responsible. The plaintiff called as her witness the maintenance supervisor of the building, Robert J. Krusen, who testified that the bottom of the involved door extended about one foot from the wall. In this position, defendant's counsel explains that the recumbent door and the upright wall formed a triangle with the door serving as the hypotenuse (7 feet), the wall as the perpendicular (6.93 feet), and the base constituting the distance between the lower edge of the door and the wall (1 ft.); and that, therefore, the defendant could not have been negligent because the law of physics and mathematics prevented the door from falling. Against this abstract theorization we have the concrete fact that the door did fall. Any theory not ballasted by realities will topple when struck by the logic of ponderable events.

While it is true that Krusen stated that the bottom of the door stood out one foot from the wall, he also said at another point in his testimony that the door was "flush with the building." A photograph introduced in evidence shows that the door had attached to it, at the center, a large, heavy, protruding steel handle which would keep the door from leaning cheek-by-jowl against the wall. Thus, even assuming the separating distance of one foot at the bottom, this handle with its buffering depth would hold the door

[ 380 Pa. Page 255]

    more or less verticaly so that it would be subject to displacement by the slightest touch, or even by vibrations resulting from footsteps, or the opening and shutting of the other door. Nor does the fact that the door remained for some three hours without falling establish that it was correctly and securely leaned against the wall. It is common observation that an unsupported, standing object does not always fall immediately. The mysterious forces of nature cling to the status quo until the shifting of equilibrium (which may come about gradually from atmospheric pressure, ...


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