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VACCARO v. MARRA BROS.

April 19, 1955

Leopold S. VACCARO
v.
MARRA BROS., Inc.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GRIM

This is a diversity action for damages arising from personal injuries allegedly suffered by plaintiff as a result of defendant's negligent handling of a heavy wire cable which struck plaintiff under the right armpit. After trial the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff physician, leopold S. Vaccaro, and against defendant stevedoring company, Marra Bros., Inc., in the amount of $ 25,000.

There was ample evidence to support the jury's finding (implicit in its verdict) that defendant was negligent and consequently liable for any injuries proximately caused by its negligence.

 There is adequate medical testimony supporting plaintiff's claim for the comparatively minor injuries to his shoulder resulting from the accident. Dr. Edwin O. Geckler, an orthopedic surgeon, testified that the accident produced a wrenching and stretching of the muscles and ligaments outside of the right shoulder joint and an aggravation of a pre-existing chronic inflammation inside the shoulder joint. It is obvious that these shoulder injuries and the pain and suffering therefrom account for only a small part of the $ 25,000 verdict in this case.

 The bulk of the verdict was based on the medical testimony produced by plaintiff's expert witness, a cardiologist named Dr. William D. Stroud, concerning plaintiff's claim that the accident on February 10, 1951, caused injury to his heart or caused an aggravation of a preexisting heart condition.

 There is no dispute that plaintiff had a coronary insufficiency and damage to his heart muscles resulting from hypertension and hardening of the arteries as early as 1948, three years before the accident. It is also undisputed that an examination of plaintiff's heart four or five weeks after the accident revealed the scar of a healed myocardial infarct on the heart muscle resulting from a coronary occlusion.

 The question now before me is whether there is any competent proof in the record of a causal connection between the accident and plaintiff's heart condition after accident. Was plaintiff's pre-existing heart condition aggravated as a result of the accident? The only pertinent evidence on that subject in the case is the medical testimony of Dr. Stroud. I have concluded from a careful examination of Dr. Stroud's testimony that plaintiff has failed to sustain the burden of proving that the accident was the proximate cause of his myocardial infarct. In support of this conclusion I shall first quote from the record pertinent portions of Dr. Stroud's testimony and then cite the applicable Pennsylvania cases, inasmuch as this case is governed by the law of Pennsylvania, where the accident occurred.

 Plaintiff's counsel first asked Dr. stroud on direct examination: '* * * Have you an opinion with reasonable medical certainty as to whether or not there was causal relation between the traumatic incident on the pier on February 10, 1951, and the coronary conditions which thereafter affected the doctor, the patient?' Dr. Stroud stated his opinion as follows: 'Well, I believe that this strain of the accident, and what trauma he received during the accident, most likely contributed to a myocardial infarct, which was discovered by Dr. La-Place some weeks later.' (N.T. 94)

 On cross-examination Dr. Stroud testified: '* * * I think it is impossible to state positively the extent to which the accident contributed towards Dr. Vaccaro's present condition.' (N.T. 95) Defendant's counsel then asked: 'And the myocardial infarct, in your opinion, may have been caused by the accident, but you cannot positively state that it was? A. That is right.' (N.T. 97)

 In answer to the next question Dr. Stroud stated (N.T. 97-98):

 '* * * I came to the conclusion * * * 'that' (the) myocardial infarct, discovered four or five weeks after the accident by Dr. LaPlace was probably, or, possibly -- I think possibly -- was due to the emotional upset and trauma produced by the accident.

 'Q. You prefer the term 'possibly' to the word 'probably?' A. Yes.

 'Q. Now, doctor, isn't it true that the myocardial infarction that we are discussing now is a frequent and common complication of the hypertensive and arterial sclerotic heart condition, with added emphysema, that Dr. Vaccaro suffered from, which has no connection with the accident? A. That is correct.

 'Q. So that is the reason, doctor, that you use the word 'possibly' in your opinion concerning the causal connection? A. That is right. I wish I could use the ...


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