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NEWSOME v. BAKER (03/16/59)

March 16, 1959

NEWSOME
v.
BAKER, APPELLANT.



Appeals, No. 86, 87, 88 and 89, Jan. T., 1959, from judgments of Court of Common Pleas No. 4 of Philadelphia County, June T., 1956, No. 1075, in case of Marie Newsome et al. v. James Baker et al. Judgments affirmed.

COUNSEL

J. Webster Jones, for appellants.

Harvey B. Levin, with him Bernstein & Bernstein, for appellees.

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

Author: Musmanno

[ 395 Pa. Page 100]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE MUSMANNO

Edward B. Herbst, Trooper in the Pennsylvania State Police, was patrolling the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the night of May 11-12, 1956, when, at 2:45 a.m., he learned, by radio communication, that an accident had happened on the Turnpike in the vicinity of Harrisburg. He sped to the reported point. As he approached Milepost 246.8, two miles east of the Harrisburg East Shore Interchange, he beheld the closing scene of a highway tragedy. In the field south of the highway, an automobile, upside down, was in flames, shedding an illumination which disclosed in its immediate vicinity an unconscious woman on the ground, surrounded by three small boys running about, dazedly and in apparent shock. He called for an ambulance for the woman and children, but could not approach the car until the fire, which enveloped it, had run its course. When, with the help of other motorists who had arrived on the scene, the car was righted, the body of the driver was found within. The driver, it developed, was Nathaniel Baker, also owner of the car. He was dead.

The injured woman, whose name was Mrs. Marie Newsome, brought suit in her own name and in the names of her three young sons, against the administrators of the estate of Nathaniel Baker, and recovered verdicts, the amounts of which are not in dispute. The administrators of the deceased Baker, however, ask this Court to reverse the verdicts of the jury and enter judgments in favor of the defendants, averring that the alleged negligence of Baker was based wholly on circumstantial evidence which did not prove that the deceased driver was the person responsible for the accident.

[ 395 Pa. Page 101]

It is true that no witness testified to having seen the accident occur and it is true that the evidence presented by the plaintiff was wholly circumstantial. But this does not mean that it is impossible to fix responsibility for the deed which took a car off the highway with such violence that it perished in flames, killed the driver, and seriously injured the passengers.

It is a reassuring fact, in the phenomena of life, that most mishaps, which are not witnessed by reportable human beings, leave behind them physical writings which clearly spell out the reason for the untoward event, and when those writings conclude with a precise, unerring explanation of the event, it would be a defiance of the law of cause and effect to ignore the explanation. It is one of the oddities in human affairs that there still exists the notion that circumstantial evidence cannot be as convincing as oral testimony. But a broken wheel with splintered spokes can tell its story of a weakened structure as clearly as it can be told by one who saw the wheel failing and disintegrating. A buckled fender, a pulverized curb, a fragmentized window glass may speak of violence as eloquently as any gifted narrator or writer. We said in Sarnak v. Cehula, 393 Pa. 5, 7, that "physical objects and markings, under certain circumstances, may speak with a tongue more eloquently convincing than that of any human being."*fn*

One of the first things which struck the eye of Trooper Herbst, after arriving at the scene of the accident, was the fact that a section of the guard rail flanking the highway had been torn away, carrying ...


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