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SENG v. AMERICAN STORES COMPANY. (03/13/56)

March 13, 1956

SENG, APPELLANT,
v.
AMERICAN STORES COMPANY.



Appeals, Nos. 36 and 37, Jan. T., 1956, from judgments of Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, June T., 1952, No. 75, in case of Helen Seng et vir v. American Stores Company. Judgments reversed.

COUNSEL

Laurence H. Eldredge, with him Paul A. McGinley, for appellants.

Samuel D. Frederick, with him Robert B. Doll and Snyder, Wert & Wilcox, for appellee.

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

Author: Musmanno

[ 384 Pa. Page 340]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

On Saturday afternoon, May 6, 1950, Mrs. Helen Seng entered the Acme Markets of the defendant American Stores Co., in Allentown, for the purpose of doing her week-end purchasing of groceries. She accomplished her objective and emerged from the store carrying in her arms two bags of such size and content that they reached to her chin. She turned to the left on Hanover Street, the thoroughfare on which the store fronted, and then, arriving at the corner of the building, made another left turn to follow the footpath which skirted the structure on its east side, leading to the plan of lots where she resided. Only 6 to 8 inches from the corner there lay on the footpath a disconnected rain spout guard (a tin device looking something like a stove pipe), not visible to Mrs. Seng Because of the bundles in her arms. On her first step around the corner, she tripped over the abandoned tin cylinder and fell, sustaining serious injuries not necessary to discuss here. In the ensuing lawsuit which she brought against American Stores, the Court below entered a compulsory non-suit on the basis that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law. This appeal followed.

It is unnecessary to dwell on the fact that getting groceries out of a store is just as important a part of the shopping operation as paying for them, and that a duty devolves upon the store owner to keep his building approaches as safe as the interior of his establishment. Nothing can be more common to the eye than customers leaving a grocery store laden with packages. It could even be said that it would be more unusual

[ 384 Pa. Page 341]

    for a customer to leave any one of the modern markets empty-handed than to see one depart loaded down as was Mrs. Seng. Nor can it be said that it is unforeseeable that a customer might well be so burdened with parcels that his vision for the terrain at his feet would be somewhat limited and impaired. Mrs. Seng testified that her packages blocked out her view of the ground for 10 feet immediately in front of her. But even if the packages in her arms had obscured the path for only a distance of 30 inches (the normal pace of an adult), she would still have fallen over the derelict stove pipe since she tripped after taking only one step around the corner.

Although it could not be denied that the plaintiff had the right to get her groceries home, the lower Court, in nonsuiting her claim, did not indicate what course was open to her to get this mission accomplished. Since she was alone, the only alternative which was left her was to make two trips, but there is no standard of conduct which required her to undergo the effort and toil of two journeys when, with a clear sidewalk beneath her, one would have been sufficient.

At any rate, if she used bad judgment in making a single trip instead of two, her action was not so radical a departure from what would be expected of a reasonably prudent buyer of groceries that the law should say that it constituted contributory negligence per se. As Mrs. Seng came out of the store, a clerk of the defendant company preceded her and turned the corner before her. It would not be unnatural for her to assume that if danger lay in her path this agent of the defendant would warn her of it. He was, however, silent.

The law has not catalogued every conceivable situation in accidents of this kind and labelled the ones which spell out ...


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