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WAUGH v. COMMONWEALTH (11/25/58)

November 25, 1958

WAUGH
v.
COMMONWEALTH, APPELLANT.



Appeals, Nos. 87 and 88, March T., 1958, from judgments of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Oct. T., 1955, Nos. 1428 and 1437, in cases of William Dickson Waugh et al. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Mildred M. Balkey et al. v. Same. Judgments affirmed.

COUNSEL

Leonard M. Mendelson, with him John W. Mamula, Frank E. Roda, Assistant Attorney General, and Thomas D. McBride, Attorney General, and John R. Rezzolla, Jr., Chief Counsel, Department of Highways, for appellant.

J. Alfred Wilner, with him James Craig Kuhn, Jr., and Wilner, Wilner and Kuhn, for appellees.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno and Jones, JJ.

Author: Jones

[ 394 Pa. Page 167]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BENJAMIN R. JONES.

This appeal presents a very narrow issue; in an eminent domain action, in which no evidence was introduced as to the normal commercial rate of interest during the period of detention, should the trial court have instructed the jury to award detention money*fn1

[ 394 Pa. Page 168]

(1) at the rate of 6% per annum or (2) at any rate the jury saw fit, not exceeding 6% per annum?

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the exercise of its power of eminent domain condemned appellee's property for highway purposes. A jury awarded verdicts for the freehold owner of $25,575 and for the leasehold owner of $12,834. After the appellant moved for a new trial the parties then stipulated in substance: (1) that appellant would immediately pay $22,000 to the freehold owner and $11,040 to the leasehold owner; (2) that payment of the balance of the jury's award ($5,369) - the amount of the detention money - would depend upon the adjudication of the propriety of the trial court's jury instruction on the subject of detention money.

On this subject the trial court charged: "Now, in addition to the fair market value of the property at the time of the condemnation, plaintiffs are also entitled to receive money damages to compensate them for the detention of their money unless you would find their claims for damages are exorbitant. Now, this additional sum is called detention money. It is not strictly speaking interest. It is, however, computed as interest. It is to be presumed that the interest during the period of detention was the 6%. We have no evidence to the contrary. Therefore, any sum awarded the plaintiffs for the fair market value of the various interest involved will be increased by a sum based on 6% interest for 32 1/2 months which is the period of detention, and which has been agreed*fn2 upon by counsel for the plaintiffs and counsel for the Commonwealth. This interest is simple interest, and is not to be compounded."

The appellant presented a point for charge which the trial court refused, said point reading: "If you decide to allow the plaintiffs detention money, you may allow it at any rate you see fit, not exceeding six percent per annum."

An examination of this portion of the court's charge indicates the jury was instructed that, unless appellees' claims for damages were found to be exorbitant, appellees were entitled to detention money computed as interest and, in the absence of any evidence as to the ordinary commercial rate during the detention period, the jury were to presume such rate to be 6% and, therefore, any sum awarded to the appellees as the ...


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